Can GOLD “cope” with WALS? Retrofitting an ontology onto the World Atlas of Language Structures
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The World Atlas of Language Structures (WALS, Haspelmath et al. 2005) is a large-scale “database of databases” consisting of 141 typological databases, covering a wide range of grammatical features, joined into one composite resource through the use of a common metadata scheme. While this metadata scheme ensures interoperability among databases across some dimensions (e.g., language names and families), it falls far short of allowing complete database interoperability. At present, a project is underway to “retrofit” an ontology onto this existing resource. Two broad questions being addressed by the project are: (i) What conceptual and design problems need to be solved in order to build an ontology “internal” to WALS which can allow for a high degree of interoperability among the WALS databases? and (ii) How can the WALS categories be related to a general ontology? Or, to put it another way, we are interested in determining (i) how we can build a worthwhile Community of Practice Extension (or COPE) for WALS and (ii) how the categories in this COPE can be related to categories in the General Ontology for Linguistic Description (henceforth, GOLD ontology; Farrar and Langendoen (2003)).