Batak Languages

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Batak Languages


a group of closely related Indonesian languages and dialects. They are distributed primarily in the mountainous interior regions of Northern Sumatra and centered at Lake Toba. The Batak languages were spoken by approximately 2.5 million people in 1967. The major Batak languages include Toba, spoken at Lake Toba in the central portion of the Batak linguistic area; Ankola-Mandailing, to the south and southeast of Toba; Simalungun, to the northeast of Lake Toba; and Karo, to the northwest of Lake Toba.

For a number of centuries the Batak languages used a special Batak writing system, which traces back to the writing systems of southern India. By the middle of the 20th century, however, it was almost entirely supplanted by the Latin alphabet. The Batak languages were not exposed to any substantial literary treatment. The traditional written literature is represented mainly by texts on the supernatural. It has a rich folklore. The authors, Bataks by birth, generally write in the Indonesian language. Study of the Batak languages was first begun by the Dutch linguist H. N. van der Tuuk (in the third quarter of the 19th century). However, dictionaries and scientific descriptions of the Batak languages have not yet been written to fulfill modern requirements.


Tuuk, H. N. van der. Tobasche spraakkunst. Amsterdam, 1864–67.
Neumann, J. H. Karo-Bataks-Nederlands woordenboek. Jakarta, 1951.
Voorhoeve, P. Critical Survey of Studies on the Languages of Sumatra. The Hague, 1955.