Kwomtari–Fas languages

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New Guinea
Linguistic classification? Left May – Kwomtari

The Kwomtari–Fas languages, often referred to ambiguously as Kwomtari, are a dubious language family of six languages spoken by some 4,000 people in the north of Papua New Guinea, near the border with Indonesia. The term "Kwomtari languages" can also refer to one of the established families that makes up this proposal.

Classification history[edit]

Loving and Bass (1964)[edit]

A "Kwomtari" (= Kwomtari–Fas) phylum was first proposed by Loving and Bass (1964). The following classification is based on their proposal, with the addition of the Pyu and language, added by Laycock (1975):

Kwomtari–Fas phylum

Laycock (1975)[edit]

Laycock (1973; 1975) grouped the languages differently, placing Kwomtari and Fas together in the "Kwomtari family", and Baibai and Nai (Biaka) together in a "Baibai family", and calling the overall grouping "Kwomtari–Baibai". Laycock also added the Pyu isolate, though he admitted, "A great deal more work is required on the Kwomtari Phylum before the classification can be regarded as established" (1973:43), and he published no evidence.

Kwomtari–Baibai phylum (spurious)

Baron (1983)[edit]

However, Baron (1983) notes that Laycock's reclassification appears to have been due to an alignment error in the published comparative data of Loving & Bass. Their raw field notes support their original classification: They found a Swadesh list of Kwomtari to have 45% cognates with Biaka (Nai), while they note that Baibai has only 3% cognates with Biaka, and so cannot be assigned to the same family. Compare (Baron 1983:5 converted to IPA):

Gloss Fas Baibai Kwomtari Biaka Guriaso
man jimɛ(ni̥) jimɛni lofwai doβwai aməɾim
woman mo moŋo inali inali ajti
nose səʙte səmɔni tipu tɔpokɾi apədu
eye kɔj koɾə (w)u wo mukatu

Baron coined the name "Kwomtari–Fas" to explicitly correct "Kwomtari–Baibai", the name under which Laycock's arrangement was commonly known. Baron added a newly discovered language, Guriaso, as a divergent branch of the Kwomtari family proper, and noted that as of that date Laycock maintained the inclusion of Pyu. However, Baron believes there is little to suggest that the Kwomtari family, Fas family, and Pyu are actually related, except that Kwomtari and Fas use similar kinship terms, which are shared by neighboring families that are not thought to be related to either Kwomtari or Fas.

Ross (2005)[edit]

Malcolm Ross linked Laycock's Kwomtari–Baibai family to the small Left May (Arai) family in a Left May – Kwomtari proposal, which is based on common pronouns. However, the link appears less straightforward once the correction is made for Loving and Bass' data. See Left May – Kwomtari for details.

Foley (2018)[edit]

Foley (2018) provides the following classification.[1]

Kwomtari family

Foley (2018) considers the possibility that each of the four groups may in fact constitute separate language families of their own, with there being a [[Fas language|Fas] family, Kwomtari family, Guriaso isolate, and Pyu isolate. Nevertheless, Foley is still open to the idea that all four groups may possibly be related to each other, but leaves this question open at the time of publication.

Possible Pyu-Kwomtari pronominal cognates listed by Foley (2018) are:[1]

Possible Pyu-Kwomtari pronoun cognates
Pronoun Kwomtari Pyu
‘you (sg)’ une no
‘we’ mena məla
‘he/she/it/they’ nane na

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Foley, William A. (2018). "The Languages of the Sepik-Ramu Basin and Environs". In Palmer, Bill (ed.). The Languages and Linguistics of the New Guinea Area: A Comprehensive Guide. The World of Linguistics. 4. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. pp. 197–432. ISBN 978-3-11-028642-7.
  • Baron, Wietze (1983). "Kwomtari survey" (PDF). Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  • Capell, Arthur (1962). A linguistic survey of the south-west Pacific (New and Revised ed.). Nouméa, New Caledonia: South Pacific Commission. OCLC 2584664.
  • Laycock, Donald C. (1973). Sepik languages: checklist and preliminary classification. Canberra: Dept. of Linguistics, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University. ISBN 978-0-85883-084-4. OCLC 5027628.
  • Laycock, Donald C. (1975). "Sko, Kwomtari, and Left May (Arai) phyla". In Stephen A. Wurm (ed.). Papuan languages and the New Guinea linguistic scene: New Guinea area languages and language study 1. Canberra: Dept. of Linguistics, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University. pp. 849–858. OCLC 37096514.
  • Loving, Richard; Jack Bass (1964). Languages of the Amanab sub-district. Port Moresby: Department of Information and Extension Services. OCLC 17101737.
  • Ross, Malcolm (2005). "Pronouns as a preliminary diagnostic for grouping Papuan languages". In Andrew Pawley; Robert Attenborough; Robin Hide; Jack Golson (eds.). Papuan pasts: cultural, linguistic and biological histories of Papuan-speaking peoples. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. pp. 15–66. ISBN 0858835622. OCLC 67292782.
  • Wurm, Stephen A. (1983). "Papuan linguistics: past and future". Language and Linguistics in Melanesia (formerly Kivung). 14: 5–25. OCLC 9188672. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |journal= (help)