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I keep trying to find languages that match the features of my conlangs for help figuring out how to use features I'm not used to. However, its rare that WALS to tell me about any language you can find info about. Its getting rather annoying. Most of the time it seems to only list obscure native American languages. Sometimes it lists island languages. The biggest language its ever pointed me to is Persian.

How can I find more info on obscure languages? I'm sick of hitting a brick wall every time I try to find out how to properly utilize some obscure feature. Am I cursed to only be able to use features from languages I know, or larger languages where material is easy to find?

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  • WALS has references for the languages it lists, can you use those?
    – Keelan
    Commented Apr 13 at 11:33
  • I can't find any resources no matter where I look. I just get sent through a ring-around through links. When I do find something, its a freaking book that's not available for free. After searching for an hour, I did manage to find the name of one book, BUT IT COSTS OVER $500 ON AMAZON. I was going to ask on here, but it would seem I'm forbidden from posting more than once a week for no reason. Wtf?
    – user45133
    Commented Apr 13 at 12:10
  • I see. I assumed you had access to a university library, sorry.
    – Keelan
    Commented Apr 13 at 12:20
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    Maybe, instead of asking this question here on Linguistics SE, you should have asked the question “Where can I download expensive books for free?” on Darknet SE (or whatever it's called)? ;)
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Apr 13 at 12:33
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    "people tell me I could request a book, but I don't know if they could do that" - ask them. You may get a pleasant surprise. Commented Apr 13 at 12:37

2 Answers 2

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Try to find some books describing the whole families of languages. The ones that have the most “exotic” grammar features are really found in the Americas, in the Austronesian language family, in the Papuan languages which are far from being certainly classified into families, in the Australian languages, and also in the Niger-Congo macrofamily of Africa, and definitely in the Khoesan languages of South Africa which are the source of the most unusual phonological systems ever known.

Check the Routledge Language Families book series of 25 titles, my favorite is The Austronesian Languages of Asia and Madagascar, 2005, Alexander Adelaar & Nikolaus P. Himmelmann (editors). Amazingly, but language isolates comprise a third of the world’s languages, there's a book about them, Language Isolates, 2018, Lyle Campbell (editor). And there's The Khoesan Languages, 2013, Rainer Vossen (editor).

By overviewing a whole language family you get an idea of what features they have and use, and then you can search for materials on the individual languages that looked interesting for you. From the general to the concrete — that's the way to find the information you need.

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Most of the languages listed on WALS (or Grambank, which is similar, but slightly more up-to-date) at least have Wikipedia pages.

Whilst Wikipedia is not itself a source, and should not be used at one, the sources cited there are typically a good place to start when looking for information on a language.

Additionally, WALS & Grambank both list the citation for each language's inclusion in a chapter/feature.

Ethnologue is a resource maintained by the evangelical Christian organisation SIL that, amongst other things, gathers vast amounts of linguistic information regarding the living languages of the world, including those with few speakers.

Glottolog serves a similar purpose to Ethnologue but more tightly focussed on linguistics and includes bibliographies for 8,604 languages (at the time of writing).

Ultimately though, you're likely to have to chase down primary research and field descriptions when you're dealing with languages with few speakers. All these resources can do is give you the information to find that.

Alternatively there are surveys of entire language families or linguistic areas (such as the Routledge Language Family Series or Cambridge Language Surveys) that typically highlight especially notable (i.e. unusual) features. Whilst these books are expensive to purchase you may be able to get them through a library or acquire digital copies through other means.

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