Kwomtari Survey 

The Kwomtari Phylum

(This Site is still under Construction)

Wietze Baron

Started: October 2007

Language classifications

As in biology with its classification of species, linguists also have a need for classification. They used to use terms like Phylum, Stock, Family and Dialects to classify the languages of  the world. The phyla were the broadest groups. These were in turn subdivided in terms of stocks, stocks in terms of families etc. But as the relationships turned out to be too complex for such a simple taxonomy, the tendency is now to respresent them in terms of tree structures. A broad, largely geographically determined, division is made in terms of PHYLA, and from there on all we find is Language Trees.

Cf. Global Mapping  International  and The Ethnologue, languages of the world

We lived as a family in the Fas (Momu)-speaking village of Kilifas, Sandaun Province, Papua New Guinea. Papuan languages have traditionally been considered impossible to place within external phyla. Even within Papua New Guinea itself,  languages were so diverse that  a number of special phyla were laid out. The Fas-language had been placed in the Kwomtari Phylum by Loving and Bass.

They suggested the following language tree:

Kwomtari and Biaka are clearly fairly closely related languages, but Fas and Baibai are even closer. It therefore made no sense that they were grouped at a Stock level. I was able to consult their survey data and it turned out that in their typed data sheets, a large part of the corpus had been skewed, probably by a typing error where the glosses appeared a line lower than the items they belonged to. This may also have put Don Laycock off  the track, when in 1975 he suggested the following classification

Laycock added PYU on the border with Irian Jaya.

My family lived in the Fas speaking village of Kilifas, intermittently from 1977 – 1988. In 1983 I was able to carry out a helicopter supported survey of key locations within this phylum. A short wordlist of 100 items was used, but I also looked at aspects of  syntax and morphology. As a result I suggested the following language tree:

The survey revealed the existence of a hitherto unkown language which I have called GURIASO, following the name of a central village. I frankly have no idea of what the phylum and stock characteristics would be in this representation. In that respect I am simply following the Loving and Bass and Laycock precedent. A copy of the report was sent to the Linguistics Department of  SIL Ukarumpa, the Linguistics Department of the University of Papua New Guinea and to the Australian National University (care of  Stephen Wurm and Don  Laycock).  Don Laycock responded a year or so later expressing strong feelings that PYU was part of this taxonomy. The rough draft is now available: Kwomtari Survey A summary is contained in my paper called Malay Influence on West Sepik Kinship Terminology., read at a meeting of the Linguistic Society of Papua New Guinea.

A Geographic Outline of the Kwomtari Phylum Territory

(to be replaced)

Village index

This index lists the villages belonging to each language and the population figures from the 1979 census. As you can tell from names like Tamina 1, Tamina 2 etc., the names were often thought up by patrol officers. People traditionally live in small clan hamlets. Government authorities put pressure on them to go and live in larger villages.

FAS Resident Absent Total
Yo 82 13 95
Sumumini 119 4 123
Wara Mayu 57 20 77
Kilifas 120 17 137
Fugumui 114 10 124
Fas 2 117 17 134
Fas 3 77 13 90
Finamui 30 8 38
Fugeri 128 8 136
Aiamina 68 5 73
Tamina 1 73 9 82
Nebike 132 4 136
Tamina 2 40 17 57
Utai 81 3 84
Mumuru 99 7 106
Savamui 32 18 50
Mori 78 9 87
Total 1447 182 1629
BAIBAI Resident Absent Total
Itomi 65 15 80
Piemi 47 10 57
Baibai 60 16 76
Yebdibi 70 1 71
Total 242 42 284
KWOMTARI Resident Absent Total
Mango 64 1 65
Kwomtari 86 12 98
Baiberi 79 23 102
Yenabi 109 41 150
Yau’uri 84 20 415
Wagroni 39 ? >39
Total 461 >97 >558
BIAKA Resident Absent Total
Konabasi 146 6 152
Biaka 200 9 209
Amini 100 ? >100
Total 446 >15 >461
Grand total 2596 >336 >2932