The diacritics are called Anak ni Surat (“children of the aksara”). They can only be used in combination with a consonantal aksara. So far we have learned only one anak ni surat which is the diacritic that eliminates the inherent [a] sound of each consonantal aksara. There are five more characters in Mandailing and Toba so the total in those two regions is six, but there are seven in Simalungun, and eight in Karo and Pakpak). The reason why there are six, seven, or eight diacritics becomes evident when we examine the Batak word for ‘advice, instruction’:
There are three different spellings for the same word which is not surprising as the Batak dialects or languages differ quite a bit from each other. The difference in spelling reflects the different pronunciation.
The above example also shows that the five Batak languages consist of two, or three, branches. The two branches are:
The Karo and the Pakpak Batak spell the word /pedah/ and pronounce it likewise as [pədah]. The sound that is represented by [ə] is called the schwa (in English, the vowel sound schwa is found in two-syllable words such as alone, pencil, syringe, and taken). The only difference is the position of the diacritic for [ə].
In English, the [e] sound is represented by met [met], red [red], and hair [heə].
The sound [e] is present in all Batak languages. The schwa [ə], however, is present only in Karo (K) and Pakpak (P). Karo or Pakpak schwa is are usually rendered [o] in the languages of the southern group.
In the following table be show a number of words which have undergone the shift from [ə] to [o] in the southern group.
There is indeed a strong tendency for Karo (K) and Pakpak (P) [ə] to become [o] in Simalungun (S), Toba (T) and Mandailing (M).
What we also could observe is that final [h] is present in S, K, and P but not in T and M. Even though Simalungun belongs to the southern group, it is considered and early offspring, and has hence still a lot of similarities with the languages of the northern group. Because of that Simalungun is often classified as a third, intermediate group.
Because of the linguistic differences it is advisable to teach the diacritics for each language separately.
The diacritics fall into two groups: there are 4 vowel diacritics (/e/, /i/, /o/ and /u/) in Mandailing and Toba. Simalungun has a 5th diacritic, which is /ou/, and Pakpak and Toba have the Schwa /ə/ as their 5th diacritic.
The second group consists of two additional diacritics, of which one /ng/ is present in all languages, and the second, /h/, is present only in Simalungun, Pakpak, and Karo. Let’s address these two diacritics first:
The phonetic value of this diacritic is in all Batak languages [ŋ] (ng).
The shape and the location relative to the ina ni surat of this diacritic is the same in all Batak dialects. In combination with the letter /ba/ it forms ᯆᯰ /bang/. This diacritic can be used in combination with vocalic diacritics to form ᯆᯪᯰ, ᯆᯬᯰ etc.
The names of this diacritic are Kəbincarən in Karo and Pakpak, Haminsaran in Toba and Simalungun, and Amisara in Mandailing. The latter reveals a very close affinity to the Sanskrit name अनुस्वार anusvāra).
In most South- and Southeast-Asian scripts, the anusvāra is represented by a dot which is placed on top of the character – whereas in Batak it is a short horizontal stroke placed above and slightly to the right of the aksara.
This diacritic occupies the same position as the Amisara, and also has the same shape, but two strokes instead of one. It is known as the Hajoringan in Simalungun, Kəjəringən in Karo, and Sikorjan in Pakpak. Toba and Mandailing do not have syllable-final -h and hence this diacritic is only present in the northern group and in Simalungun. In combination with the letter /ba/ it forms ᯆᯱ /bah/. It can be used in combination with vocalic diacritics to form ᯆᯪᯱ /bih/, ᯆᯬᯱ /boh/ etc.
In India this diacritic is known by the Sanskrit name विसर्गः Visarga. The Visarga resembles the punctuation mark of colon or as two tiny circles one above the other.