The World Atlas of Language Structures is a very interesting project which “is in preparation under the editorship of Bernard Comrie, Matthew Dryer, David Gil, and Martin Haspelmath.”
This Atlas will show structural features of languages in much the same way as linguistic data are displayed in dialect atlases. It will, so to speak, show us the isoglosses of the dialects of Human Language. We envisage an Atlas with about 100 structural features, each shown on a two-page global map and accompanied by a two-page description and discussion of the feature. To make areal patterns visible, each feature needs to be mapped for at least 150 languages, and ideally more than 200. In addition to the printed version, we envisage a fully searchable CD-ROM version.
A Guardian article about it doesn’t actually provide much information but does have this amusing quote:
Roland Kriessling, a linguist specialising in African languages, said: “In Namibia, there are many languages which sound completely bizarre to the western ear.
“!Xoop, for example, has different clicking sounds, including the tut, the horse’s hoof sound and the kiss. The phonetic complexity of !Xoop could put it into the Guinness Book of Records.”
Thanks for the link, Pat!
Addendum. One of the contributors to the Atlas wrote me as follows:
Somebody who commented on your post spoke of sparsity of data, and my honest opinion is that that is not a fair assessment. We all got a list of a core sample of 100 languages we were expected to investigate, plus another 100 we were strongly urged to investigate. For the chapters I worked on, I looked at every single of those 200 languages, plus over 100 more. We had access to experts on most of the 200 languages to make up for gaps in written documentation. I have seen a few chapters that indeed fall short of current standards in linguistic typology (there simply were too few languages in the sample), but most chapters are based on sufficient data, in my opinion. Of course you can always say that the picture isn’t nearly complete (it would take a large team and tons of money to investigate anything close to all of the Earth´s languages even for a single feature), but both in terms of topics and languages covered, I don’t think “sparsity” is a valid characterization.