Lesson 10


The x-shaped diacritic has two different names is named Siala Ulu in Mandailing. Si is an article used specifically for proper names, but also. for the names of several plants and animals. What ala in this context means is unclear. The word ala has several meanings, but none of the is plausible in the given context. Ulu ‘head’ may relate to the fact that the diacritic is positioned above the letter (as one writes from bottom to top).

Toba drops the element ulu and calls it Siala. According to Warneck’s dictionary, the noun-forming circumfix ha-…-an can be added resulting in Hasialaan. Warneck also lists a third form, namely Sihora. That the name of an animal – hora mans ‘civit’ – is used for a letter-like symbol is rather unlikely.

In Pakpak the Toba name Sihora is used in Pakpak spelling – Sikora.

The Karo Batak name is Sikurun and the Simalungun name is Sihorlu. It seems unlikely that either of those names were based on any of the names used in Toba or Mandailing.

The phonetic value of this diacritic is [o]. However, in Karo it is [u].

Here are two examples

Karo Simalungun Toba Mandailing
‘anak perempuan’
Telu/Tolu ‘tiga’ ᯗᯧᯞᯬ

Use of diacritic ᯬ

In the Karo Batak script, the cross-shaped Sikurun is the only existing form and the Karo Batak never use the shape that the diacritic for [u] has in the other Batak regions. In that respect, the Karo are very consistent.

Of course, the Karo Batak script also has a diacritic that represents [o], and which will be covered in the next lesson.

When Karo Batak write letters and their so common and beautiful love laments, which are always intended for a recipient who is also a Karo Batak, they never use the Sikurun for [o].

When writing a book of magical nature, called a pustaha, or pustaka in Karo spelling, the audience is no longer exclusively Karo.

In proto- and precolonial times, the Batak rarely traveled. Roads were not, or only sporadically maintained, and traveling was dangerous. Trade existed, but mainly for essential items such as salt, and precious and non-precious metals. Export goods were forest products, but also horses from Toba.

Besides the few traders, the only other people that traveled, and who could do so safely, were the magician and healers, called datu or guru, and who were held in high esteem by the entire population.

It was not uncommon for a guru from Karo to travel to Mandailing and take on apprentices who were of course native speakers of Mandailing. Of course the guru would have to learn the language first as Karo and Mandailing are mutually unintelligible.

Together with Simalungun and Toba, Mandailing belongs to the southern branch of the Batak languages. Every guru had to learn hata poda ‘language of instruction’, the secret language of the guru which was used to write the bark books (pustaha). Hata poda is an ancient dialect of the southern branch of the Batak languages, and mixed with some Sanskrit and Malay words. So every guru from the northern group could, at least to some degree, communicate with other guru. One can also savely assume that most of these traveling guru were bilingual anyway.

When a guru from Karo writes in the Poda language, it is quite common for him to use Karo spelling, for instance by spelling poda as podah. In Karo, the equivalent for poda is pedah, but the guru of course knows that hata poda does not contain schwa. Depending on the skill of the guru in mastering the Poda language, one may also find a number of Karo Batak words that speakers from the south are unable to understand.

Many guru who are ethnic Karo write a pustaha, even though it is in poda language, in Karo script. They then use the Sikurun for both [u] and [o], possibly because they are unfamiliar in writing the diacritic /u/ of the southern languages (and also Pakpak) where the aksara and the diacritic are joined as a single glyph, forming a ligature. This diacritic will be discussed in the following lesson.