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Conference Paper

Overlooked data in typological databases: What grambank teaches us about gaps in grammars


Skirgård,  Hedvig       
Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Max Planck Society;

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Lesage, J., Haynie, H. J., Skirgård, H., Weber, T., & Witzlack-Makarevich, A. (2022). Overlooked data in typological databases: What grambank teaches us about gaps in grammars. In Proceedings of the 13th Conference on Language Resources and Evaluation (LREC 2022) (pp. 2884-2890). Paris: European Language Resources Association (ELRA).

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000C-A35C-5
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.