Query - Map software for typological purposes

Bill Croft croft at CASBS.STANFORD.EDU
Thu Oct 2 17:31:44 UTC 2003

Dear typologists,

    I am asking for information regarding the use of map software for
typological purposes. This means the linking of some sort of database
with typological traits for individual languages to a map facility
that will display the typological data on a map on the screen. I am
of course aware of two such systems, the one developed by Matthew
Dryer for his own typological/areal research, and the World Atlas of
Language Structures (WALS) project based at the Max Planck Institute
in Leipzig. I have corresponded with Matthew about his system and
with Matthew and Martin Haspelmath about WALS. Having been suggested
so many names of other people developing or adapting software for
typological maps by them, I have decided to simply ask the Lingtyp
list to see if there are still other people than the ones that
Matthew and Martin named. I would appreciate hearing from anyone who
is developing or has developed map software for typological purposes,
including the experience of other workers on the WALS project.

I would like to hear about any relevant experience, but I am
particularly interested in the following questions:

(1) Is anyone developing an "open system" to be publicly available,
that is, map software to be distributed or sold where languages are
already located on the map (as points or regions), and a typologist
could enter her/his own crosslinguistic data to be displayed on the
map? If so, what sort of capabilities are planned, in particular:

(a) what sort of ability to zoom in/zoom out of a map, or to display
maps of geographical regions at different scales, would be available?
(b) what sort of database capabilities will such systems have?

I understand that WALS will have its data maps available on a CD-ROM
when it is published, but that it won't have the ability for a new
user to add further data.

(2) Is there any demand among typologists for a publicly available
"open" typological map software system? Or have the typologists who
want such a thing already developed it for themselves, and the rest
don't feel the need for it (for either intellectual or practical

(3) What has been the experience of people who have attempted to use
commercial geographical information system (GIS) software, such as
ArcView/ArcInfo, MapInfo, etc. for typological purposes? In

(a) how easy/difficult has it been to adapt the map software for
typological purposes, or just to figure out how to use the map
(b) what sort of database capabilities do/don't the commercial GIS
systems have that typologists would consider useful or necessary?
(c) do many universities have GIS software that linguists could use?
(Stanford University, where I am currently on sabbatical, has
ArcView/ArcInfo available to all university staff members; but
Stanford is a wealthy university in Silicon Valley, and may be an

Bill Croft
from September 1st 2003  - June 30th 2004:
Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences
75 Alta Road
Stanford CA 94305-8090
Phone: (+1) 650-321 2052
Fax: (+1) 650-321 1192
Email: croft at casbs.stanford.edu
Web home: http://lings.ln.man.ac.uk/Info/staff/WAC/

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