Some examples off the top of my head:

  • Are there any languages without fricatives?
  • What language has the most points of stop consonant articulation?
  • Are there any languages without at least a first-person second-person third-person distinction?
  • Are there any pragmatic phenomena that differ between languages in a way that cannot be attributed to culture/society?

All of these questions conceivably have solid (albeit disputable) answers, but there's a risk that the open-ended format will result in unfocused and ultimately messy discussion.

A potential pro I see in these sorts of questions is that they would be very interesting to me (and I suspect other community members). Moreover, I would propose that these questions are also fairly "Google"-able, so having them on the site may improve our profile.

I've seen other StackExchange communities go both ways. For instance, the Programmers site rarely closes a question for lack of specificity. On the other hand, the vanilla StackOverflow seems to at least have a tepid response for "best practices" questions and the like.

Some potential responses:

  • Delete all such questions
  • Enforce community wiki status to prevent too much attention being diverted to these sorts of questions while still welcoming contributions
  • Permit all such questions

2 Answers 2


Yes, they should stand because a WALS query isn't slam dunk with respect to determining that something doesn't exist (and may not be a slam dunk with respect that a feature does exist, because WALS is counting very specific features in some cases).

I think the phenomena of a stack exchange site slowing copying data from other famous information repositories (WALS, wikipedia) is probably unavoidable.

To put a positive spin on it, friends should send friends to the Linguistics SE, not WALS.

  • Yes because I've taken 7 linguistics classes and had not heard about WALS yet. Thanks!
    – tdhsmith
    Sep 13, 2011 at 22:06
  • 2
    WALS is incomplete, lots of things it doesn't ask and features it doesn't count. Where else should we hunt for 'em and why not here?
    – kaleissin
    Sep 14, 2011 at 20:54
  • 3
    WALS is intended to be representative and not exhaustive. Plus, there really isn't any way to query for answers to questions of the sort Steven pointed out above (e.g., "Are there any languages without fricatives?"). I have to be honest, I find myself wondering intensely whether there are any languages without fricatives now! :)
    – pat
    Sep 15, 2011 at 7:27

I think that the four examples are very different:

Question 1 and 3 are precise questions with some likelihood that an answer might turn up if it exists.

Question 2 necessarily assumes that the answerers knows all languages, so I have doubts about the formulation.

And Question 4 seems to be at least exremely vague.

So, personally, I am very much in favour of 1 and 3, and I don't see a reason to discourage 2 and 4 if they attract reasonable answers. Question 2 very likely would, for question 4 I cannot tell.

Basically, the answerers can weaken quantifiers in their answers, so they won't give the most fluffy language, but instead a very fluffy language.

  • 1
    Well question two is most likely answered by some Khoisan/!Xu-language, let me check my copy of UPSID... In the book it seems to be !Xu anyway.
    – kaleissin
    Sep 14, 2011 at 21:01

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