Alena Witzlack-Makarevich


Overlooked Data in Typological Databases: What Grambank Teaches Us About Gaps in Grammars
Jakob Lesage | Hannah J. Haynie | Hedvig Skirgård | Tobias Weber | Alena Witzlack-Makarevich
Proceedings of the Thirteenth Language Resources and Evaluation Conference

Typological databases can contain a wealth of information beyond the collection of linguistic properties across languages. This paper shows how information often overlooked in typological databases can inform the research community about the state of description of the world’s languages. We illustrate this using Grambank, a morphosyntactic typological database covering 2,467 language varieties and based on 3,951 grammatical descriptions. We classify and quantify the comments that accompany coded values in Grambank. We then aggregate these comments and the coded values to derive a level of description for 17 grammatical domains that Grambank covers (negation, adnominal modification, participant marking, tense, aspect, etc.). We show that the description level of grammatical domains varies across space and time. Information about gaps and uncertainties in the descriptive knowledge of grammatical domains within and across languages is essential for a correct analysis of data in typological databases and for the study of grammatical diversity more generally. When collected in a database, such information feeds into disciplines that focus on primary data collection, such as grammaticography and language documentation.