The WALS (The World Atlas of Language Structures; Haspelmath et al. 2005) 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).
The World Atlas of Language Structures consists of 142 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 maps shows between 120 (35) and 1110 languages, each language being represented by a dot, and different dot colors showing different values of the features. Altogether 2,650 languages are shown on the maps, and more than 58,000 dots give information on features in particular languages.
The World Atlas of Language Structures 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 dot.
Main features of the atlas
- printed book published by Oxford University Press in summer 2005 with an interactive version on CD-ROM
- world maps showing the geographical distribution of structural linguistic features
- each chapter consists of a map and an accompanying text of ca. 2.200 words
- each map is responsibility of an author or a team of authors
- data mostly come from published descriptions
The World Atlas of Language Structures was made available online in April 2008. The online version contains most of the data of the printed version and the CD-ROM version, including the chapter texts.