In the 1980s, linguist Wietze Baron conducted research in Papua New Guinea on some of the many local languages in Sandaun province. His research eventually focused on the Fas language (also called Momu) (see appendix 1, Fas.pdf)).
The valuable materials that had been collected were partly researched and analysed, but personal circumstances caused an untimely cessation of this project. Unfinished papers and collected notes are still stored in boxes. For linguists conducting fundamental research, this information and research is of great value as emphasized by scientists from various universities/research institutes around the world. In order not to let the research go to waste, it is important that the materials still available are further analysed, collected in an online database and made available to the linguistic community.
Part 1 Finalizing description of the grammar (Syntax) / comparison with surrounding languages and language variations / publication
Part 2 Completing the description of the grammmar (Phonology / Sound system) / comparison with surrounding languages and language variants / publication
Part 3 Finalizing the lexicon (dictionary) Fas/TokPisin/English/ publication
Part 4 Processing residual materials, stories and literacy materials. Editing the total package and finalizing a publication
Over the entire period : Maintaining a website (Fas-Momu.net) and reporting on the progress.
The project is calculated to require 1500 hours of work spread over the available time of two to three years and requires a subsidy of around € 30.000 (ex 30% tax)
Prof. Dr. Marian A.F. Klamer, Leiden University Centre for Linguistics (LUCL).
UPPSALA UNIVERSITY Dr. Harald Hammarström, Professor
Dr. Harald Hammarström
Department of Linguistics and Philology Uppsala University
Box 635 751 26 Uppsala Sweden March 24, 2023
To whom it may concern,
Wietze Baron collected a wealth of data on the Fas language of Kilifas in Sandaun province of Papua New Guinea in the 1970s and 1980s. Due to personal circumstances, he had to discontinue the work and the data has been collecting dust in boxes until recently, when Wietze (in his senior years) obtained the chance to act on his desire to work on them and make them available and useful to the world.
Fas is one of the world’s approximately 6,500 languages. These languages represent an irreplaceable and abundant resource for understanding the unique communication system of our species. Rather than studying just one language, such as English, through the comparison of many languages we are better equipped to trace the history of populations and to understand the processing machinery of our brains. In this perspective, the study of a language like Fas with only a few thousand speakers, is equally valuable to the study of large languages with millions of speakers.
The study of Fas is also becoming more urgent. Like so many other minority languages of Papua New Guinea, Fas is under pressure from Tok Pisin. If this process is not reversed — and nothing suggests this will happen — Fas will be lost forever in a matter of generations.
Ideally, the data collection and study of the Fas language would be done by the Fas themselves. Unfortunately, this is unlikely given the current (and projected future) state of education and resources available to the Fas people. Assistance by outsiders seem to be necessary, but is expensive, especially given the deteriorating security situation in Papua New Guinea. As I personally observed in a trip the Vanimo area in 2022, Vanimo, the major urban centre for the Fas, is increasingly dominated by logging companies. At the same time, there are too many languages in a situation like Fas and too few linguists with the skill and time to properly study them. Therefore, the work already put in and Wietze’s ability to continue is all more more significant.
In sum, I wholeheartedly support the work of Wietze Baron towards making data on the Fas language available to the scientific world as well as for preserving the cultural heritage of the Fas people.
Dr. Harald Hammarström, Professor of Linguistics
Dr. Edgar Suter Institut fur Linguistik Universitat zu Koln
Albertus-Magnus-Platz 50923 Koln
Winterthur, 3 April 2023
To whom it may concern
Letter of endorsement for the Fas language project
Dear Sir, dear Madam,
I am a linguist specializing in Papuan languages. Currently I am a research fellow at the University of Cologne in Germany working on a project whose aim is the reconstruction of the Huon Peninsula language family of Papua New Guinea. I take an interest in the classification of the Papuan languages of Sandaun Province to which Fas belongs.
I became aware of Wietze Baron through his website “The Kwomtari Phylum’’ (www.kwomtari.net). On this website, Mr. Baron presents a survey of Fas and the languages previously thought to be related to it, though he shows that only Baibai is unmistakably related to Fas whereas the other four languages stand apart. The website also includes a number of papers on Fas, among them two papers on the phonology published in 1979 and 1983. Mr. Baron has an obvious talent for linguistic description and I hope that he will find the time to continue his studies and complete a grammar of Fas.
The island of New Guinea is home to more than 800 Papuan languages, i.e. autochthonous languages that have been spoken in this area for up to 50,000 years. Because most of these languages have small speaker numbers and none of them is an official language of a nation state their description lags far behind that of the languages of Eurasia. Languages of wider communication (Malay in Indonesia and Tok Pisin in Papua New Guinea) are now encroaching upon the indigenous Papuan languages and gradually replacing them. The Sandaun Province of Papua New Guinea is one of the areas where this process has proceeded furthest so that in many language communities the youngest speakers of indigenous languages are middle-aged adults and the children do not speak the language any more. The window of opportunity to describe these languages and document them for posterity is closing fast.
Mr. Baron lived in Papua New Guinea studying Fas in the late 1970s and the 1980s. After that, he pursued another career. It would be fantastic if he found the time now to return to his studies of Fas and produce a grammar, a dictionary, and a text collection. I endorse his research project and recommend funding it.
Dr. Edgar Suter