Lesson 14

CVC Syllable Structure

Due to the various affixes that can be attached to a base word, Batak words, such as, for instance, hinarajaon ‘kingdom’ (from base raja), can be relatively long, but the typical root word is bisyllabic, with either two open syllables (mata, jabu, haha) or a combination of two closed syllables (dompak) or one open and one closed syllable. The word buhit consists of an open CV and a closed CVC syllable: bu=hit.

Writing both open and closed syllables is straightforward. Let’s look at the word dalan (cv-cvc). If the vowel in a closed syllable is [a], as in our example, wich is inherent in any consonantal character, then you write ᯑ /da/ followed by ᯞᯉ᯲ /lan/:

  • ᯅᯬᯘᯉ᯲    bosan ‘bored’
    ᯘᯮᯂᯖ᯳      suhat ‘a measure’
    ᯂᯉ᯳ᯘᯰ    hansang ‘a button’

In a word like pir ‘firm, hard’ the vowel in this CVC structure is not ‘a’, and must hence be written by a diacritic. It is here where the following rule applies:

If in a CVC syllable structure, the vowel is not a, but i, ǝ, e, o, or u, then the vowel is attached not to the first, but to the second consonant and before the pangolat (virama).

This peculiar way to treat CVC structures  is applied  consistently in all Batak regions. The word pir ‘hard’ (T, M) may not be written ᯇᯪᯒ᯲ but has to be written ᯇᯒᯪ᯲; the word borit ‘sick’ (S) is written ᯅᯬᯓᯖᯫ᯲; meter [mǝtǝr] ‘quick’ (K) is written ᯔᯧᯗᯒᯧ᯳ etc. Some more examples:

  • ᯅᯬᯘᯞᯬ᯲    bosol ‘swollen’
    ᯘᯮᯂᯖᯮ᯳     suhut ‘chair, principle’
    ᯂᯉᯪ᯳ᯘᯖ᯳    hinsat ‘to lift up’
    ᯑᯬᯂᯗᯬ᯳    dohot ‘with’

Is there any plausible explanation for this rather unusual rule? The answer is a straight ‘no’. There is no other Indic language that I can think of that has a similar rule. It is simply a uniqueness of the Batak writing system.


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