WALS Online (citation etiquette)

Martin Haspelmath haspelmath at EVA.MPG.DE
Thu Nov 6 15:32:39 UTC 2008

Dear LINGTYP readers,

As many of you are already aware, all the data and texts from the World 
Atlas of Language Structures are now freely available online (since 
April 2008; http://wals.info). If you missed this, check it out now!

Because WALS is a relatively unusual publication, especially the online 
version, there has been some confusion as to how to cite it.  A number 
of papers have cited data from WALS by citing only the atlas itself 
(e.g. as Haspelmath et al (2005) (or 2008, the online version)) without 
citing the specific chapter or chapters the data cited comes from.  The 
purpose of this email is to draw attention to this problem.  We 
understand how the online WALS in particular may not seem like a 
collection of edited chapters, but it is, and should be treated as such 
for purposes of citation.

We would therefore like to ask that users of WALS observe the following 
practices both in their own work and in their roles as reviewers of 
papers or editors.

(i) Please make sure to give credit to individual WALS authors and their 
chapters when you cite data from WALS. For instance, when you refer to 
data on the order of demonstrative and noun, you should refer to Dryer 
2005, and when you refer to uvular consonants, you should refer to 
Maddieson 2005; it is not sufficient in such cases to refer to the whole 
volume (Haspelmath, Dryer, Gil and Comrie 2005).

(ii) The maps based on WALS data that you create by means of the 
interactive reference tool on the CD-ROM or by combining features with 
the online version can be used quite freely for scientific (non-profit) 
purposes, i.e. you can include them in presentations, papers, teaching 
materials without asking for permission. But in all cases, please make 
sure to refer to all the individual WALS chapters in the usual way. 
(Only the use in textbooks is restricted, and you need to ask Oxford 
University Press for permission.)

(iii) WALS Online (http://wals.info), published in April 2008, counts as 
a separate publication, a kind of second edition by another publisher, 
even though its content is virtually identical to that of the book (just 
a few errors have been corrected). If you do not have access to the WALS 
book or reference tool and if you use exclusively the online version, 
then it is better to cite the 2008 edition. It has the same title and 
editors, but there are no page numbers. For example, Dryer's chapter on 
the order of demonstrative and noun should be cited in the following way:

Dryer, Matthew S. 2008. Order of Demonstrative and Noun.
In: Haspelmath, Martin & Dryer, Matthew S. & Gil, David & Comrie, 
Bernard (eds.) The World Atlas of Language Structures Online.
Munich: Max Planck Digital Library, chapter 88. Available online at 
http://wals.info/feature/88. Accessed on 2008-10-30.

The citation can be seen under "cite" in the second menu bar of all the 
chapter pages (see, e.g., http://wals.info/feature/88).

We would also like to use this occasion to draw your attention to a 
number of other developments around WALS:

(i) Note that the WALS interactive reference tool, which was originally 
available only on the CD-ROM accompanying the book, is now freely 
downloadable (http://www.eva.mpg.de/lingua/research/tool.php).

(ii) WALS Online users are welcome to make online comments on individual 
chapters. These comments will be moderated and published if relevant. 
See, e.g., http://blog.wals.info/definite-articles/#comment-22. In the 
future we also want to allow the possibility of commenting on individual 

(iii) We are hoping to publish a revised edition of WALS Online every 
year, so the 2009 edition will be somewhat different from the 2008 
edition, and so on. We are not making changes to the structural data 
between editions, though we note errors on an errata page 
(http://blog.wals.info/category/errata/). However, we have introduced 
various changes to the search and map functions, as well as corrections 
to the language locations, and we will continue to do so in the future 
(see http://blog.wals.info/category/news/). These do not affect the 
publication (in the narrow sense), only the presentation.

(iv) Finally, the book is still available from OUP, and at a 50% 
discount for members of the Association of Linguistic Typology (see 
http://www.oup.co.uk/sale/websocwals/). Despite the usefulness of the 
web version, the beauty of the book with its hundreds of color maps is 
unsurpassed and might make a very good gift for the next gift season.

The WALS editors

(Martin Haspelmath, Matthew S. Dryer, David Gil, Bernard Comrie)

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