[Lingtyp] How do typologists use examples in grammars?

Sebastian Nordhoff sebastian.nordhoff at glottotopia.de
Tue Jun 1 18:56:58 UTC 2021

On 5/31/21 3:14 PM, Eline Visser wrote:
> Dear typologists,
> I’d like to learn more about how you use the examples given in grammars.
> I have just finished a grammar myself, and will continue to do
> descriptive work in the future, and this is a topic that fascinates me.
> I'm especially interested in knowing if one can discern the traits of a
> good example (for typological use). I’d be glad if some of you could
> take the time to answer the questions below, either briefly or
> elaborately. You can email me the answers. Also, if there’s is anything
> published on this topic please do let me know.
> 1. In general, do you prefer short (let’s say <1 line) or longer (> 1
> line) examples? Elaborate if you wish.

Dear all,
for what it's worth, we now have some empirical basis for these
questions (which I find equally fascinating). I have extracted all
examples from all LangSci books and put them on a searchable website.
This is work in progress in alpha state. Currently, there are about
20,000 sentences, and you can filter for length, glosses used, or word
in the source text or in the translation. We plan to expand the querying
possibilities and the contextualization If there are any other features
you would like, please let me know.

You can browse all examples here: https://imtvault.xitio.de/

As for the length of examples, we can say that a typical example from
those books has a length of about 40 characters and 5 words. This can
probably be interpreted as the result of negotiating the competing
motivations of naturalness, exhaustiveness and succinctness.

> 2. In general, do you have a preference for examples from a certain
> genre? Which? You can interpret genre broadly or narrowly, in which ever
> way you like: monologue, dialogue, anecdotes, recipes, hymns,
> picture-matching tasks…
> 3. In general, do you have a dispreference for examples of a certain genre?
> 4. Say you have two examples that illustrate your point equally well.
> What could be a deciding factor for choosing one over another?
> 5. Say you can’t find an example that illustrates your point well. On a
> scale from 1-5, how likely is it that you will go to the language’s
> corpus or the attached texts in the grammar to find one yourself? (1=
> very unlikely, 5 = very likely)

this is something which I hope the IMTvault will facilitate. Suppose you
are interested in the negation of passives. A query like
will return all sentences with the categories NEG and PASS in the
interlinear morpheme translation line. Maybe this particular combination
is not discussed in the grammar, but via this queries, you can quickly
retrieve the relevant sentences from the corpus.

Currently, the language is "undefined" for most examples. Only for books
called "A grammar of X" do we assert that the example does indeed come
from X. This means that of the 20,000 example sentences, only 7,000 have
language information attached to them. It should be possible, however,
to use some smarter algorithms to improve coverage here.

We also hope to be able to link to the precise position where the
example is found in a pdf in the future, but this is surprisingly hard.

If there are some other features you would like to see, we are happy to
hear about them!

Best wishes
Sebastian, for the Data Liberation Front

> 6. Anything else you’d like to share about examples in grammars? Feel
> free to rant.
> Eline
> P.s. For those who ordered a Kalamang grammar hard copy - they’re in
> Sweden, I’m in Norway, traveling isn’t as easy as I thought yet, so this
> takes a bit longer than I thought, sorry!
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