pseudolanguage- language of shamans

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SKBI6143 LANGUAGE AND SOCIAL CONTEXT TOPIC: PSEUDOLANGUAGE LANGUAGE OF SHAMANS (MANTRA) Name : Khairunnadiah binti Mohd Samuddin Matric No. : P82325 Lecturer : Assoc. Prof. Dr. Tan Kim Hua Deadline : 16 th October 2015

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Page 1: Pseudolanguage- Language of Shamans







Name : Khairunnadiah binti Mohd Samuddin

Matric No. : P82325

Lecturer : Assoc. Prof. Dr. Tan Kim Hua

Deadline : 16th October 2015

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Table of content

Unit Page Number

1.0 Introduction 1

2.0 Discussion

2.1 History of mantra and its development in the Malay world

2.2 Reasons and purposes for inventing mantra

2.3 Linguistic aspects of mantra in the Malay world

2.3.1 Semantic analysis on the use of rhetorical

devices in mantra

2.3.2 Lexical choice of mantras in the Malay world

2.4 The social implications of mantras in the Malay world








3.0 Conclusion 9

4.0 Reference 10

5.0 Appendix 11

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Pseudo-language is composed of two morphemes which are pseudo and language.

Pseudo is defined as false, feigned, erroneous, in appearance only, resembling, lying and

deceived; language means a system of communication comprising of sounds, words, and

grammar. As a whole, pseudo-language refers to an artificial or constructed language based

on a set of prescribed rules that is intended for a specific purpose. The particular language

can only be understood by the inventor and the community that follows the purpose.

Malaysia has numerous constructed languages such as ‘bapuk’ language, ‘rockers’ language

and ‘rempit’ language. For this assignment, the selected pseudo-language that will be

discussed in depth is the language of shamans or mantras.

As argued by Ingerman in her book ‘Shamanic Journeying: A Beginner's Guide’

(2004), shamanism is the earliest spiritual practice known to humankind, dating back tens of

thousands of years. It has been practiced in the regions of Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe,

Greenland and South American throughout history. This assignment focuses on the societies

in Indonesia and Malaysia whereby the terms referring shamans are ‘bomoh’,’pawang’ and

‘dukun’. Shamanism is an animistic world view that involves special medium technicians to

make linkage of the visible world to the other world of gods and spirits to benefit the local

community for the purposes of healing, divination, control over natural events and to perform

a variety of ceremonies. These people are subjected to various roles in the community,

including doctors, storytellers, healers, priests and psychotherapists. They often recite

mantras in the execution of their role in the society by which the researcher categorizes under

the classification of the language of shamans.

Mantra is made up of two parts: man (root) and tra (suffix). It combines the old Vedic

and Indo-European ‘man’ which means to think with ‘tra’ that indicates instrumentality.

Combined together, it brings the meaning of ‘that which protect the minds’. Mantra is the

oldest form of oral literature in the Malay world or fondly referred to as Nusantara. In the

Malay context, specifically, mantra refers to the sound, movement, sense or thought that is

believed to be able to produce different energy when uttered, moved and processed by those

who master and believe in the supernatural powers or spirits; thus, upon reciting the verses,

they will enter the realm of conscious and subconscious state of mind to interact with the



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2.1 History of mantra and its development in the Malay world

The whole existence of mantra in the communities in Indonesia and Malaysia can be

rooted in the primitive beliefs: animism and dynamism. According to Budiono Herusanto in

his book ‘Simbolisme Dalam Budaya Jawa’, the Java tribes were animists adhering to the

belief that all things have spirits or souls. Each being is believed to have souls that can offer

help or harm to humans. Besides animism, the ancient tribes also shared the belief of

dynamism that was motivated for procuring the dynamic and mystical power; they were

convinced that such power existed in certain things, even the seemingly inanimate objects

and natural phenomena. These superstitions have led to the practice of worship involving

mantra recitations. Therefore, it is safe to say that mantra has been practiced by the

communities, even before the first century; thus, saying that the mantras are the verses from

the gods is totally irrelevant since the communities were not introduced to such system yet

back in those days in the Malay world.

The alliance between the Malay world and India commenced in the second century.

The growth of trade with the native empires of India (Majapahit and Srivijaya) had brought in

coastal people to most of the regions in the Malay world; this, as a result had given rise to the

Hinduism influence in the societies. In addition, upon the arrival of Hinduism influence, an

ideology was introduced namely syncretism. It amalgamated Hinduism and Buddhism with

elements of indigenous beliefs. In accordance to the shamanistic practice, the influence was

apparent in terms of borrowing language from the Sanskrit language as well as the adoption

of cultural traditions including meditation and offerings to the supernatural powers or gods.

The arrival of Islam in the Malay world was through Pasai, a state in northern

Sumatra in the 12th century by the Arab traders from Saudi Arabia. In the journal article

‘Islam and the Malay World: An Insight into the Assimilation of Islamic values’ by Mohd

Shuhaimi bin Haji Ishak and Osmah Chuah Abdullah (2012), it is argued that Malacca

provided the motive force for Islamic leadership and administration of the Malay states in the

region since Parameswara converted to Islam upon marrying the Pasai princess around 1414.

Islam reordered the tradition, culture and world view of the community from the previous

beliefs that uphold the mystical, spirits, and superstition beliefs to a new belief, which shaped

the concept of monotheism, Allah as the creator, the Almighty, everything stems from Him

and the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as the messenger of Allah.


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Due to this, shamanistic practice was greatly affected; so, in order to stay in the community,

the structure of mantras was reconstructed according to the Islamic beliefs by adding

“Bismillahirrohmanirrohim” in the beginning of the mantras and “Lailahailallah

Muhammadurrasulullah” in the end of the mantras. The process is termed as Islamization,

which refers to the society’s shift towards Islam.

2.2 Reasons and purposes for inventing mantra

The questions, on how did it come about and who invented the verses are still in

dispute; however, taking the general consensus of different arguments among scholars,

mantra is believed to be invented by those with expertise and in-depth knowledge in the other

world of spirits and supernatural powers (shamans). The sources can vary from abstract ideas

to dreams. Dating back to the primitive beliefs in the Malay world, mantras are created as an

expression or method to worship and appease the supernatural powers or spirits for the

purpose of self-protection from bad spirits and calamities. As of today, mantras can be

classified according to the specific purpose. There are numerous types of mantras including,

those to facilitate certain task which are usually recited before performing the task, those to

gain immunity, love spells to cast to a certain people to make them love and desire the reciter,

those to protect the believers from bad spirits and calamities and those to cure diseases.

2.3 Linguistic aspects of mantra in the Malay world

The discussion of linguistic aspects in the mantras of the Malay world revolves

around the use of various rhetorical devices giving non-literal semantic (ambiguities in

meaning), lexical choice is arranged accordingly to fit the purpose, no fixed syntax, the

morphological system is based on the base language and the sound system is different

referring to the base language. Thorough explanation is provided in the first two aspects.

2.3.1 Semantic analysis on the use of rhetorical devices in mantra

According to Yule (1996), semantic analysis usually attempts to give emphasis on the

conventional meaning of the words rather than, on what the speaker intends them to mean in

certain context. In the language of shamans, per se, there are a lot of rhetorical devices used

to accomplish specific tasks and goals. This further secures the position of mantra as a

pseudo-language because most of the lexicons bring different meanings than the conventional

ones giving it a sense of exclusiveness and secrecy.


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Rhetorical devices are utilized thoroughly in mantras to bring about certain effects.

They include denotation, connotation, simile, metaphor, metonymy, repetition, alliteration,

assonance, anaphora, epistrophe, parallelism, climax, anti-climax, antonym, synonym,

hyperbole, personification and allusion.

The verses in mantras can either be expressed in denotative or connotative manners.

One of the examples of denotations in the mantras that can be understood directly without

having to guess and infer includes those in ‘Ulek Mayang Mantra’: Puteri dua berbaju

serong, Puteri dua bersanggul serong, Puteri dua bersubang gading, Puteri dua

berselendang kuning; these dictions literally picture the vivid description of the legendary

princesses of the sea as wearing dresses with short sleeves, hairs knotted on the side,

adorning ivory earrings and carrying yellow sashes.

Connotations can be easily detected in mantras and the number of connotations is

enormous since the idea of mantras is to remain sacred and exclusive; this reflects the ability

of the language to conceal the meaning and purposes. The example can also be alluded to the

similar mantra: Umbut mayang diumbut, Umbut dengan jala jemala, Pulih mayang kupulih,

Pulih balik sedia kala; in order to understand the meaning behind the verses, it is requisite to

infer the context, purpose and cultural traditions in the field. ‘Mayang’ refers to the sheaves

of Areca palm flowers. For clearer illustration, refer to Appendix I. Looking at the direct

translation (I persuade the mayang, Persuade it with the shining nets, I heal with mayang,

Bringing back to health), the role of ‘mayang’ is questionable in the sense that what is the

role of the sheaves of Areca palm flowers in the context and what does it have to do with the

healing process. In the ritual, the shaman uses ‘mayang’ with the sheath as the main element

that signifies the state of the patient and towards the climax of the ritual, the sheath of palm

flowers will be broken and it is impossible for the sheath to re-envelop the flowers.

Somehow, in the mantras, it implicitly tells that the ‘mayang’ with the help from the Sea

Spirits managed to bring back the soul parts needed by the patient to make him ‘whole’

again. Based on this analysis, it is safe to say that the language of mantra is abstract and the

meaning is not open to everyone.

Climax is a stylistic device that is frequently used in mantras as well. The climax

element can be found in one of the mantras that is originated from Minangkabau to chase

away the bad spirits: ‘Bismillahirohmanirohim, Yang ado deyen paadokan, Yang indak ado

den kato bonau, Itulah yang deyen sosorahkan, Pailah kau jin, Pailah kau jauo-jauo dayi


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siko’. If referred to the meaning (In the name of Allah, The Most Gracious, The Most

Merciful, When there is something that I can see, I will admit to it, The things I cannot see, I

will also admit to its existence, Those are the principles that I hold on to, Go away you bad

spirits, Go away, far from here), it is obvious that the clauses are arranged in such order to

increase the importance of the last two rows; they serve as the main emphasis and purpose of

the mantra. They complement the beginning of the mantra which stand for the belief of the

reciter who believes in the supernaturalism. Another example would be of the similar

category of mantra that is originated in East Malaysia: ‘Hantu raya jembalang raya, Datang

engkau dari hutan raya, Kembalilah engkau ke hutan raya, Engkau jangan bertemu anak

sidang manusia, Jika bertemu anak sidang manusia, Tunduk engkau tujuh kali kepada aku’.

The climax element is injected in the form of warning when it warns the bad spirits to never

disturb human beings and if they fail to do as told, they will have to face the consequences.

Allusion is the type of rhetorical device that can be stated in two forms which are

explicit and implicit. It has been used in mantras as associations or references to a historical

or literary figure, event or object, thus, the practitioners will be able to create the resonance to

the symbolic meaning of the referred entity. One example of mantra that utilizes this stylistic

device is the mantra to tame the alligators: ‘Hai si jambu rakai, Sambutlah pekiriman putri,

Runduk di gunung Ledang’. The reference of Puteri Gunung Ledang in the mantra will have

the reciters associating it to the legendary tale of Puteri Gunung Ledang with Laksamana

Hang Tuah and Sultan Melaka. The function of having the particular figure in the mantra is to

insert the high ranking recognition that puts the gap between the ordinary people and royalty

so the alligator knows the offering is from someone majestic; logically, it should not be

turned down.

Metaphor is another stylistic figure used oftentimes in mantras; it is a type of

analogy that compares two alike things in some respects, especially something abstract. For

instance, referring to the similar mantra from the previous paragraph: ‘Hai si jambu rakai,

Sambutlah pekiriman putri, Runduk di gunung Ledang, Embacang masak sebiji bulat’;

‘embacang’ is a metaphor used to refer to something that is precious as back in those days,

the mango-alike fruit is hard to find and for the alligator, it is even precious since the fruit can

only be found on the land. The skin is described as not smooth and unappealing, however the

fruit is actually very tasty. If translated to the context, it means the offering may not seem of

any advantage for the alligator to accept, but if it does, good things will happen.


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Simile is used a lot in mantras to show a more lively description of the subjects. The

only difference between simile and metaphor is, the former uses words like ‘seperti’,

‘bagaikan’ and ‘laksana’ to liken the subjects to other things whereas the latter compares

directly. Examples include:

a) Keras seperti besi khursaini (Mentera Melayu Penambat Kasih)

b) Menyala seperti api, Seperti nasi mendidih (Mentera Ilmu Pengasih Harun Mat Piah)

c) Agar aku bisa berdiri, Tegap dan segak bagaikan Laksmana Melayu (Mentera

Semerah Padi)

d) Mukaku seperti bayang si bidadari (Mentera Pengasih Muka, Pengasih Buah


e) Aku berdiri seperti raja (Mentera Pengasih Minyak, Minyak Sapu Kaca)

f) Mukaku berkilat seperti cahaya emas yang kuning (Mentera Pengasih Asam,

Pengasih Asam Payak)

Repetition occurs frequently in mantras in the form of anaphora, epistrophe,

assonance and alliteration. They are utilized for certain purposes, including to evoke the

sense of confidence, to bring about certain effects, to play with the psychological

consequences and for specific emphasis at certain phrases.

Examples of anaphora (regular repetition of the same word at the beginning of

successive phrases or clauses) include:

a) Panah batu, batu runtuh

Panah gunung, gunung runtuh

Panah selera dengan aku

(Mentera Melayu Penambat Kasih)

b) Perabun pelias peliseh

Perabun pelias peliseh

Perabun pelias peliseh

(Mentera Pelindung Pelimun)

Epistrophe is slightly different than anaphora because the repetition of words occurs

at the end of the clauses. Not only it fits the mentioned purposed, it also adds aesthetic values

to the mantra by making it rhymes.

a) Siang dan malam tiada lupa pada aku

Lupa makan nasi lupa akan aku

Lupa air minum lupa akan aku

Lupa pakai kain lupa akan aku

Lupa sanggul rambut lupa akan aku

Lupa engkau menyusu susu ibumu

tiada lupa akan aku

(Mentera Seru Malaikat 44)

b) Hantu raya jembalang raya

Datang engkau dari hutan raya

Kembalilah engkau ke hutan raya

(Mentera Penghalau Setan)


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2.3.2 Lexical choice of mantras in the Malay world

The lexical choice of mantras fully depends on the purpose of them being invented.

As explained earlier, there are various types of mantras in the Malay world, including

Mentera Pengasih, Mentera Menyembuhkan Penyakit, Mentera Mempertahankan Diri,

Mentera Kebal, Mentera Kesurupan and Mentera Menjaga Pokok Padi. Each of them serves

different purposes and according to popular belief, they are recited to worship and appease

different kinds of spirits. The evidences are presented below:

A. Mentera Semangat Padi

Hei segala penunggu di sini,

Jin dan seitan,

Aku minta kamu pindahlah

dahulu dari sini,

Sebab apa di sini tempat


Aku hendak bekerja bagi


Buka petak bendang aku,

Supaya selamat sempurna,

Meminta penunggu-

penunggu di sini

Tolong jaga sama daripada


Yang hendak merosakkan


B. Mentera Pemanis Sireh

Hei sireh kau daun nan


Daun cerah batang bersinar,

Makanan malaikat empat

puluh empat,

Bukan kelatmu sebarang


Airmu pahit penyeri muka,

Kau penyeri wajah,

Berseri muka anak Adam.

C. Mentera Penghalau Hantu


Yang ado deyen paadokan,

Yang indak ado den kato


Itulah yang deyen


Pailah kau jin,

Pailah kau jauo-jauo dayi


Jan kau kacaukan umat nabi


Baajau dengan guru,

Jan kau komai jo le

Berkat Laillahaillallah.

The italicized words in each column fits the purposes of the mantras being recited. In

the A column, it refers to a mantra to take care of the paddy fields. The choice of words in the

mantra only revolves around the context of paddy fields and the spirits: penunggu, petak

bendang, jaga, merosakkan and tanamanku. The similar concept goes to the B and C column.

The second mantra is the one recited to make one looks beautiful and appealing, hence the

words like lembut, bersinar, penyeri muka, penyeri wajah and berseri are used to imply the

purpose of the mantra. The last mantra in the above example is the one to chase away bad

spirits. The words implying the reasons behind the mantra include pailah, jin, jauo-jauo, jan

kau kacaukan umat nabi Muhammad and jan kau komai jo le.


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2.4 The social implications of mantras in the Malay world

The association between the society and mantra in the Malay world is knotted and

lashed together, by which the latter would not have survived to the present if the former

decided to stop believing and practicing. There are two main issues with the respect of

impacts that the mantra brings to the society which are the mantras as one of the alternative

treatments of conventional modern medicine and the reliance on shamanistic traditions.

Shamanism together with its language is perceived as the alternative treatment to cure

diseases in the Malay world, up until now. It is not unusual for the society to consult the

shamans if the modern medicine does not seem to show positive progress. The shamanistic

treatment will normally be accompanied with mantras for the shamans to recite during rituals

and the patient to practice as prescribed by the shamans. The immersion of the exclusiveness

of the language and the strong beliefs will certainly affect the emotion and the psychological

state of the believers. Logically speaking, if based on full trust, the language will be able to

evoke confidence and passion; indirectly, it offers hope and positive thoughts to the mindset.

The persuasion and rhetorical devices with frequent repetition and specific emphasis given on

certain phrases play such an important role in making progress throughout the process.

The study has unraveled the questions of history and its development as well as the

aspects of language in the mantras of the Malay world that it is safe to say mantra is

considered as an exclusive and, most importantly, a sacred language by the communities.

They are convinced that the language produces different vibes and ambience when recited;

they claim that the result is due to the presence of supernatural powers and spirits when

appeased and called upon by the mantra reciters. The society is prone to simply accept and

believe in something that they do not understand; which in this frame of reference, the

mantra. Some of them even hold on to the beliefs without even wanting to find out and

question the how-about and meaning because the tradition was descended from their

ancestors. It is not relevant to equate mantras with the Bible, the Holy Quran and other holy

scriptures since mantra is founded by superstitious beliefs of the primitive culture; plus, the

mentioned scriptures are provided with complete translations, in contrast to mantra. This

exclusiveness and its aesthetic values have somehow made an impact to the society to keep

on depending, practicing and descending the shamanistic traditions to the younger generation.


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The language of shamans that focuses specifically on mantra recitation has been

practiced ever since the primitive culture started practicing superstitious beliefs. It is a

pseudo-language in the senses that the mantras are created to attain specific purposes, they

have a community that follows the purposes, they have rules and general patterns that they

abide by and they are not open to everyone in the society. Pacing through the era of

globalization with advanced technology, it is incredible that the language is still actively

spoken, even though the size of the community may have reduced over time.

The paper discusses three general aspects: history and the development of the

language in the Malay world, the linguistic element and its social implications. Looking at the

timeline, the structure of the mantras shows evolution due to the influences of different

cultures. It discloses that there are flexibility and openness of the language to adapt to the

changes of the cultures the language is in for survival and acceptance. In the aspect of

linguistics, the researcher found out that the figure of speech in the mantra serves as a mirror

to reflect on the idea and purpose of the verses. The choice of words is not random and the

lexis is carefully selected to bring certain effects on the believers. In mantras, it is easy to

notice the rhymes and repetitions, whether in the beginning, middle or towards the end of the

verses; the repetitive sounds give the mantras aesthetic values and psychological effects as

repetition grows confidence and emphasis. The ambiguities in meaning that are in the

mantras denote the possibility of the language being exploited to conceal the real meaning,

making them exclusive and sacred. The social consequences of the language can be alluded

to how the society is still depending on the tradition with the language playing a major role

and as a significant marker to distinguish itself from conventional language the mantras are

based on.

Summing up, mantra is one of the earliest literatures in the Malay world and even

though the community who believes in the power of the language and the shamanistic

tradition itself is dying down, the language will not come to extinction. The aesthetic values

and the origin of the language are sentimental, thus they will be kept as a valuable treasure to

the society.


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Herusanto, B. (2000). Simbolisme dalam Budaya Jawa. Yogyakarta: Hanindita.

Ingerman, S. (2004). Shamanic Journeying: A Beginner's Guide. Sounds True.

Pendokumentasian Jampi, Serapah dan Mentera. (1993).

Sejarah Alam Melayu. (1952). Kuala Lumpur: Jabatan Pelajaran Persekutuan Tanah Melayu.

Short, M. (1996). Exploring the Language of Poems, Plays, and Prose. London: Longman.

Yule, G. (1985). The study of language: An introduction. Cambridge, Cambridgeshire:

Cambridge University Press.


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Appendix I

a) The image of ‘mayang’ or Areca palm flowers in the sheath

b) Ulek Mayang ritual