Pretty WALS maps

A pretty map with WALS data, generated by GMT
A pretty map with WALS data, generated by GMT

The World Atlas of Language Structures maps data from typological studies to a world map. In addition to the online version, there is also a program for the local production of maps.

An even prettier map, in SVG format, with the background customised in Inkscape
An even prettier map, in SVG format, with the background customised in Inkscape

However, the options for customisation are limited. I use the free and open command-line tool GMT for the production of linguistic maps. It has awesome tools for all kinds of tasks, including the mapping of symbols from a file of coordinates. Here is a quick guide on how to produce your own pretty WALS map.

  1. Download your data set from WALS in tab-separated values (there is a button just underneath the header). Save it as walsXY.xy, where XY is the WALS feature you want to map.
  2. Remove the metadata lines at the top of the file and the header of the table.
  3. GMT does not distinguish between tabs and other simple blanks. Replace all simple space characters by nothing or a character of your choice.
  4. Start GMT and move to the directory to which you have downloaded your data set and where you want to produce your map.
  5. In the same folder, create a cpt file containing the colors that you want to assign to different values. My wals.cpt file has the following content: (number of WALS value, RGB values).
    1 240/11/0 
    2 0/210/240
    3 240/180/0
    4 28/142/59
    5 28/54/142
    6 90/28/142
    7 211/211/170
    8 0/0/0
  6. Run the following commands in GMT:
    pscoast -R-180/180/-70/80 -JQ7i -K -Ssteelblue > walsXY.ps
    psxy walsXY.xy -R -i5,4,2 -J -O -Sc0.15c -Cwals.cpt >> walsXY.ps
    
  7. For more options, see the documentation of GMT.

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