Guidelines for Property Authors

A property author has the responsibility of writing definitions for a small set of related properties (e.g., 10 to 30 definitions). Property authors should preferably work in teams of at least two people.


Property authors will be acknowledged on the masthead of the web site (under a link called “Contributors” in the navigation bar of website). Their name will also appear on the property definitions that they write.


Once a set of definitions is written, the property author will send them to the administrators (linguisticexplorer@gmail.com) who will send them out to two or more language experts for review. The language experts will be asked to make sure that it is clear how the proposed properties would be set for their particular languages. This is not a formal review process since no attempt will be made to keep the identities of the language experts secret. Furthermore, the language experts will not have the job of rejecting or accepting the definitions.

At the same time as the property definitions are being evaluated by the language experts, they will also be posted to the Google Group sswl.linguistics, and a discussion thread will be opened for them. Once posted, the property definitions will be open to the public for feedback. All property definitions will remain open for feedback for two months.

The property authors should not hesitate to send drafts of their properties to colleagues to help sharpen definitions and provide examples.

The administrators will review the property definitions for consistency and redundancy with pre-existing property definitions. The administrators will also check that the name of the property follows the database naming conventions.

The property authors will then incorporate the feedback from all the above sources (colleagues, language experts, sswl.linguistics, and administrators) and submit the final property definitions. They will then be uploaded to the database.

Characteristics of Property Definitions


Each property definitions should have a number of examples. First, there should be an example from English. Second, there should be examples (from various languages) that exemplify the “Yes” and “No” values of the definition.

Inter-Expert Agreement

The properties should be defined so as to increase inter-expert agreement. The definitions must be written in such a way that different people, from different backgrounds would set them in the same way for the same language. One way to achieve this goal is to leave out jargon in the definitions. Also, terms used in the property definitions should be defined, and the definitions of the terms used should be clear and easy to apply.

Cross-Linguistically Applicable

The properties should be formulated so that for any language on earth it will be possible to set them (to Yes, No or NA (Not Applicable)). In other words, it should never be the case that somebody reading the property for some language will simply have no idea how to set it.


A fundamental feature of the database is that the properties are defined at a fine level of granularity. For example, instead of having a single property “Order of Subject, Verb and Object”, we have six properties: “Subject Verb Object” (values Yes, No, or NA), “Subject Object Verb” (values Yes, No, or NA), etc.


Once property definitions are uploaded to the database, language experts will start setting property values immediately. Because of this it will be difficult to make changes in the property definitions once they are uploaded. Minor aspects of the definitions (e.g., further examples and clarifications that do not change content) can be altered, but no changes to content can be made.

If after a property definition is uploaded, it is realized that it needs to be improved, the property will not be deleted from the system. Rather, a new property will be introduced. This new property will be linked to the old property by a special field in the property: “See other versions:” which will be immediately accessible in any property definition.