The World Atlas of Language Structures: Online and Free

23 Aug

What are the languages located north of the polar circle – i.e. with a latitude greater than 66.5° – and do they have the same order of subject, object and verb? This and many other sophisticated linguistic queries can be answered using WALS.

The data and the texts from The World Atlas of Language Structures, published as a book with CD-ROM in 2005 by Oxford University Press, are now freely available online.

WALS Online is a joint project of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and the Max Planck Digital Library . It is a separate publication, edited by Martin Haspelmath, Matthew S. Dryer, David Gil and Bernard Comrie (Munich: Max Planck Digital Library, 2008).

What is WALS?

WALS is a large database of structural (phonological, grammatical, lexical) properties of languages gathered from descriptive materials (such as reference grammars) by a team of more than 40 authors (many of them the leading authorities on the subject).

WALS consists of 141 maps with accompanying texts on diverse features (such as vowel inventory size, noun-genitive order, passive constructions, and “hand”/”arm” polysemy), each of which is the responsibility of a single author (or team of authors). Each map shows between 120 and 1370 languages, each language being represented by a symbol, and different symbols showing different values of the feature. Altogether 2,650 languages are shown on the maps, and more than 58,000 datapoints give information on features in particular languages.

WALS thus makes information on the structural diversity of the world’s languages available to a large audience, including interested nonlinguists as well as linguists who would not normally read grammars of exotic languages or specialized works by comparative linguists. Although endangered languages are not particularly emphasized, they are automatically foregrounded because of the large sample of languages represented on each map, where each language (independently of its number of speakers) is shown by a single symbol.

The website also provides data in SQL and delimiter-separated-values format.

Here is the WALS data page for my native language Turkish:

Thanks to everybody who worked on this precious linguistics project!

1 Comment

Posted by on August 23, 2008 in CogSci, General, Linguistics


One response to “The World Atlas of Language Structures: Online and Free

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