I first came across a reference to WALS in Nick Evans’ book Dying words. I thought it sounded like a great resource for a budding linguist and searched online for a copy to purchase, only to find that it would cost me at least $400! So you can imagine my relief when I found the online version of the book which has free public access.
“WALS consists of 141 maps with accompanying texts on diverse features (such as vowel inventory size, noun-genitive order, passive constructions, and “hand”/”arm” polysemy), each of which is the responsibility of a single author (or team of authors). Each map shows between 120 and 1370 languages, each language being represented by a symbol, and different symbols showing different values of the feature. Altogether 2,650 languages are shown on the maps, and more than 58,000 datapoints give information on features in particular languages.”
The atlas has 168 Australian languages listed, with varying amounts of information for each language. Languages that are widely spoken and recorded obviously have more complete entries then languages which are no longer spoken.
WALS is an invaluable tool, and has satiated my linguistic curiosity many times as, I am sure, it will continue to do so. My thanks go to the institutions that made WALS available online.