Batak Toba language

The Batak Toba language is an Austronesian / Malayo-Polynesian language that originates from Northern Sumatra, in Indonesia, mostly west of Lake Toba. There are approximately 2,000,000 speakers worldwide. There is a traditional Batak Toba script alphabet referenced below.

Name of the language

The name of this language arises from a complex history of ethnic identity in colonial and post-colonial Indonesia. Some refer to the language as "Toba Batak" and others, as "Batak Toba." At first blush the reversal of nouns may seem like a distintion without a difference.

The distinction is illustrated by a jocular comparison to the English language. English, too, uses double-noun phrases. In English, the first noun descends to adjective form. The first remains a noun, whose broad meaning becomes narrowed or described by the adjective. For instance, consider the term Toilet Paper. The Toilet becomes an adjective to qualify the type of paper. Toilet is a plumbing device, and Paper a flat medium of compressed plant fiber. These nouns spoken in the usual order (Paper then Toilet) refer to a delicate paper used to clean the anus before dissolving in water. The same two nouns spoken in the opposite order create an absurd meaning ("Paper Toilet"). Reversed, the term paper qualifies the type of toilet since the first noun descends to adjective form. A paper toilet would hardly provide the material properties necessary to achieve its primary purpose. This absurd image of "Toilet Paper" and "Paper Toilet" reminds us of the importance of adjective descension order in double-noun phrases.

The term Batak refers to a population larger than that which exclusively speaks Batak Toba. There are seven Batak languages attributed to this population. The term Toba refers to the geography surrounding and to the west of Lake Toba. So, whether one prefers to describe the language as "Batak Toba" or "Toba Batak" depends upon whether one intends to depict the geography by the language, or the people by the geography. Both orders are technically correct since they describe the same language, but the inflections are distinctly different.

To complicate matters for English speakers, the Batak Toba language itself uses a reverese noun-adjective descension order. That is, the second noun descends to adjective form and the first remains a noun. Thus in the language itself, the second noun descends to adjective form and the first remains a noun. Hence the term "Batak Toba" refers to a population by their geography of origination. To some, that is more polite than the term "Toba Batak" which seemingly refers to a Geography by the type of people who originated there. But in light of the noun-adjective reversal in English, importance of noun order is lost amid the reversals and it becomes difficult to ascertain which order seems more polite. But to a speaker of the language, the order matters.

Batak alphabets, including Batak Toba (published by Simon Ager, author of Omniglot)
Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (ed.), 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International. Available online at Summary at [1].
Truetype font for Batak Toba language (developed by Uli Kozok of the University of Hawaii)
Example translation of Biblical Scripture (published by the Language Museum, a site published by Zhang Hong, an internet consultant and amateur linguist in Beijing China)
Musgrave, Simon. Non-subject Arguments in Indonesian: Department of Linguistics and Applied Linguistics, THE UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE. See page 112 (doc page 101) and reference to Cole, Peter & Gabriella Hermon (2000) Word order and binding in Toba Batak. Paper presented at AFLA 7, Amsterdam
Sejara Indonesia An Online Outline of Indonesia History.

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