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The Iban language (jaku Iban) is spoken by the Iban, a branch of the Dayak ethnic group formerly known as "Sea Dayak" who live in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan and in Brunei. It belongs to Malayic languages a Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family, and is related to Malay, more closely to Sarawakian Malay. It is thought that the homeland of the Malayic languages is in western Borneo, where the Ibanic languages remain. The Malayan branch represents a secondary dispersal, probably from central Sumatra but possibly also from Borneo.[4] The Iban language is also a subject tested in PMR and SPM, the Malaysian public examination for Form 3 and Form 5 students respectively. Students comment that questions from these exams mostly cover the classic Iban language, making them a daunting task for many who are more fluent in the contemporary tongue. The language is mostly taught to students in rural areas with a majority Iban population, including Baleh (Kapit), Betong, Sri Aman, Saratok, Lubok Antu, Pelagus (Kapit), Pakan and Julau.

Jaku Iban
Native to Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei
Region Borneo
Ethnicity Iban people
Native speakers
790,000 (2013)[2]
700,000 L2 speakers in Malaysia (2013)[2]
Latin, Dunging
Language codes
ISO 639-2 iba
ISO 639-3 ibainclusive code
Individual code:
blg – Balau[1]
Glottolog iban1264[3]



The Iban can be subdivided into different sub-ethnic groups. Each of them speak in different dialects. The most formal, intermediate and working dialect is the Saribas (mainly Betong and Saratok), others such as Balaus, Sebuyaus, Ulu Ai, or Rejangs, which are mutually intelligible throughout Sarawak region. With the exceptional of Iban Remun dialects which have a unique dialect, but still intelligible to Ibans from other districts. In West Kalimantan, dialects such as Bugaus, Seberuangs, Mualangs, Chengkangs, Sebarus, Daus are more disparate. Here are some examples of the differences in the various dialects spoken in Sarawak and West Kalimantan, with their English equivalents:

Comparison between Sarawak Ibans and Mualang
English Balau (Sarawak) Mualang (Kalimantan)
Rooster Manuk Renyau
Smell Nyium Lulum
Stupid Tuyu, banga Mawa
Twins sapit Rakup
Window Penyinga/jenila Telingu'
Father Apai Mpai
Feel Asai Asa'
And Enggau Aba'
Animal Jelu Ibun
Arrange Tusun Tunsun, tipan
Breathe Seput Penyuan
Comparison between Standard Iban and Remun
English Standard Iban Remun
No Enda Entai
See Meda Ngilau
Know Nemu Badak
Shirt Gari Kelatang
Run Belanda Belawa
Silence! Anang inggar Sengian
Stupid Beli'/Palui/bangka Labuan
No/Did not Nadai Entai
Tomorrow Pagila Pagi
Later Lagi/legi Ila
Mat Tikai Kelaya
Good Manah Nyelaie

-Sample phases in Iban Remun-

  • Entai ku ngilau - "Nadai aku meda." (I did not see it.)
  • Entauk ku badak - "Enda ku nemu." (I don't know.)



Front vowel Central vowel Back vowel
close vowel i [i] u [u]
half-close vowel e [e] ə [ɘ] o [o]
open vowel a [a]

Writing systemEdit

Although the Iban language is presently written using the Latin alphabet, an Iban syllabary was devised by Dunging anak Gunggu, who reportedly spent fifteen years from 1947 to 1962 devising the script.[5] Twenty generations before Dunging, which would represent approximately 400–600 years, an ancestor named Renggi also devised a script, but it was lost in a flood apparently. The Iban syllabary is published but is not widely distributed; recent efforts by Dr. Bromeley Philip of Universiti Teknologi MARA to promote and revitalize the use of script have resulted in the creation of digital fonts, a teaching program, and the transcription of several traditional folktales.[6]


The prefix is used to show work or something action to be. The prefix is put in front of the verb. There are many prefixes used in Iban language. For example, gagai used in many style of prefix base on condition of the word.

  • Gagai - chase-
  • Begagai - chasing each other
  • Digagai - chased by
  • Dipegagaika - being chased by many
  • Tegagaika - outrun/-outpace
  • Pengagai - the person who chases

Other examples:

  • Sayau - Love
  • Dikesayauka - Was loved by
  • Penyayau - Affection
  • Kiruh - Busy
  • Ngiruhka - to make someone busy-
  • Pengiruh - preoccupied
  • Pengiruh-ngiruh - really preoccupied
  • Enjuk - give
  • Berenjuk - giving each other (present)
  • ngenjuk
  • Dienjuk - gave (past)
  • Deka ngenjuk - will be given (future)
  • Pengenjuk - giver
  • Kangau - call
  • Bekangau - calling each other (present)
  • Ngangau - calling (present)
  • Dikangau - was called (past)
  • Deka dikangau - will be called (future)
  • Pengangau - caller

Personal pronounsEdit

Iban has separate words for inclusive and exclusive we, and distinguishes singular, dual, and plural.

singular dual plural
First-person exclusive aku kenduai iya kami
First-person inclusive aku tua kitai
Second person nuan, di seduai (di) kita
Third person iya seduai iya sida
Iban English
Aku I, me
Nuan/dik/kua' (glottalized -should not add 'k' You
Iya He/she/it/him/her
Tua (the two of us) We, us (including ourselves)


Kita You all
Tua Both of us
Sida They
Seduai di Both of you
Seduai iya Both of them
Kenduai iya Both of me and him/her


  • Ke nuan - "for you"
  • Ke aku - "for me"
  • Ke kami - "for us"
  • Bup aku - "My book"
  • Bakih aku - "My friend"
  • Apai aku - "My father"
  • Gamal nuan - "Your look"
  • Sulu nuan - "Your beloved"
  • Sekula kami - "Our school"
  • Ke pangan aku -"for my beloved"
  • Ke anak aku - "for my child"
  • Ari indai di - "From your mother"
  • Ari bakih aku - "From my friend"

mostly pronouns are put after subjects

Possessive pronounsEdit

engku - "mine"
enggi' di', enggi nuan - "yours"
enggi iya - "his/her"
enggi tua - "ours (both of us)"
enggi sida - "theirs"

Sample phases:

  • baju tu engku - "This shirt is mine."
  • Tu enggi nuan - "This is yours"
  • Siti nyin enggi tua - "That one belongs to both of us"

Demonstrative determinersEdit

There are three demonstrative determiners in Iban. Tu "this, these" is used for a noun which is generally near to the speaker, nya "that, those" is used for a noun which is generally far from the speaker and "Nyin" which is the furthest from the speaker.

Pronoun Iban English
tu bup tu This book, these books
nya ukui nya That dog, those dogs
nyin bungai nyin That (furthest) flower(s)

These words can also act as demonstrative pronouns where they can stands on theirs own, replacing rather than modifying a noun.


  • Nyamai tu. - This is good.
  • Ok meh nya. - That's Ok.
  • Peda di nyin dih. - Look at that.

Demonstrative pronounsEdit

In Iban, demonstrative pronouns are words that show which person or thing is being referred in relation to the location of the addressee to the speaker. There are three demonstrative pronouns in Iban depending on location to the speaker. They can only be used to refer to an addressee (human) and cannot be used to refer to inanimate objects.

Demonstrative pronouns
Space Form Gloss
Proximal iya tu this person
Medial iya nya that person
Distal iya nyin the other person (furthest)


  • Nama gaga iya tu baka nya?. - Why is this person acting in such a way?
  • Kini ke iya nya tadi? - Where is he going? (Referring to the second closest person to the speaker)
  • Ni iya nyin tadi dih? - Where is the other (person) one?.(referring to third person which is the furthest form the speaker)


Demonstrative adverbsEdit

Demonstrative adverbs in Iban are closely related to the demonstrative pronouns in Iban grammar. For example, corresponding to the demonstrative pronouns are the adverbs such as kitu (= going here), kia (= "going there") and kin (= "going there (farthest)") equivalent adverbs corresponding to the demonstrative pronoun this are tu, nya and nyin.

Demonstrative adverbs
Space Form Gloss
Proximal kitu going here
Medial kia going there
Distal kin going there or going yonder


  • Kitu nuan. - Come here (you).
  • Kini di kia? - Why are you going there? (Within the sight of the speaker)
  • Aram kin tua. - Lets go there. (Referring to location far away from speaker)


Locative determiners
Space Form Gloss
Proximal ditu here
Medial dia there
Distal din there or yonder


  • Aku nganti nuan ditu. - I wait for you here.
  • Aku nganti nuan dia. - I wait for you there. (not far from the speaker location).
  • Din ku nganti nuan. - I wait for you there.(referring to a far place)


Iban also has a set of adverbs referring to manner. They are a combination of baka (ke) ("like/as") and the abbreviated determiner forms tu, nya and nyin.

Locative determiners
Space Form Gloss
Proximal baka tu like this, this way
Medial baka nya like that, that way
Distal baka nyin like that, that way


  • Aku ka iya baka tu. - I want it to be like this.
  • Nama di ngaga iya baka nya? - Why did you treat him like this?
  • Uji gaga di baka ke nyin. - Try to do it like that.

Sample lexiconEdit

Sample phrasesEdit

  • Nama berita nuan? - "How are you?"-
  • Sapa nama nuan? - "What is your name?"-
  • Berapa rega utai tu? - "How much is this?"
  • Dini alai ___? - "Where is ___?"
  • Ari ni penatai nuan? - "Where are you from?"
  • Datai ari ___aku. - "I come from ___."
  • Pukul berapa diatu? - "What is the time now?"
  • Selamat lemai! - "Good evening!"
  • Selamat ngalih ari - "Good afternoon"
  • Selamat datai! - "Welcome!"
  • Anang manchal! - "Don't be naughty!"
  • Enda ulih datai - "Couldn't make it"
  • Anang guai - "Hold on" "Wait a sec"
  • Nadai ngawa nya/enda ngawa - "Nevermind/it does not matter"
  • Nyamai, wai - "nice taste"
  • Pulai/mupuk dulu - "going back-
  • Aram bekelala - "Let's get to know each other"
  • Pengerindu - "Love, Passion"
  • Aku lelengauka nuan - "I miss you/I am missing you"
  • Manah - "Good"
  • Jai - "Bad, damaged"
  • Sapa enggau nuan? - "Who came/is with you?"
  • Aku enggau ___ - "I came / went with ___; I am with ___"
  • Alau dinga - "Please listen" (Saratok dialect)
  • Anang inggar / ragak - "Silent, please"
  • Kini ke nuan? - "Where are you going?"
  • Mar amat! - "Too expensive/difficult"
  • Tusah endar! - "Too difficult"
  • Kapa nya! - "Couldn't care less"
  • Selamat pagi, Pengajar. - "Good morning, Teacher."
  • Enda nemu aku tu - "I don't know"
  • Aram ngirup mih kitai - "Let's all drink"
  • Ka ke pasar ku pagila - "I want to go to the town tomorrow"
  • Sayau - "Love/Darling"
  • Mupuk gawa aku - "I'm going to work"
  • Ka tinduk aku - "I want to go to sleep/bed"
  • Sapa kita ke manchal? - "Who is being naughty?"
  • Bajik amat nuan - "You are pretty/beautiful (for women)"
  • Sigat amat nuan - "You are handsome (for men)"
  • Mali - "Taboo"
  • Aku meruan sayauka nuan belama - "I will always loving you"
  • Asai ke kala meda nuan - "I feel like that I have seen you before"

Bible TranslationEdit

Apai kami di serega, kudus mih nama nuan, datai mih perintah nuan, jadi mih peneka nuan, baka ke dalam serega baka nya dalam bumi. Beri ke kami pengidup tiap hari. Ampun penyalah kami, baka kami ti ngampun orang ti salah ngelaban kami. Intu kami ari penguji, lepaska kami ari penyai. Laban nuan ti beempu perintah,enggau kuasa enggau mulia. Datai ke belama - lama iya. Amin.

Translation: Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Thy kingdom come, on earth as in heaven. Gives us our daily bread. Forgive us of our sin, as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours. Now and forever. Amen.

Word phraseEdit

-Active verb sentence-

  • Aku benung makai ikan guring - "I am eating fried fish"
  • Apai Dom netak manuk ba dapur - "Dom's father is cutting the chicken in the kitchen"
  • Indai meri aku RM100 kena meli barang dapur - "My mom gave me RM100 to buy to buy necessities"

-Passive verb sentence-

  • Ikan guring nya dempa aku - "That fried fish was eaten by me"
  • Manuk nya ditetak Apai Dom ba dapur - "That chicken was cut by Dom's father in the kitchen"
  • Aku diberi indai RM100 kena meli barang dapur - "I was given by mother RM100 to buy necessities"


Anthony Richards, An Iban-English Dictionary. Oxford University Press, 1981. [Paperback reprint in the 1988 by Penerbit Fajar Bakti, Petaling Jaya. ISBN 967653384X]

Otto Steinmayer, Jalai Jako' Iban, a basic grammar of the Iban language of Sarawak. Klasik Publishing House: Kuching, 1999.

Renang Anak Ansali, Jaku Iban serta basa kitai. University of London Magazine, 2002.

Kementerian Pelajaran Malaysia / Jabatan Pelajaran Sarawak /Pusat Perkembangan Kurikulum KPM 2007


  1. ^ Hammarström (2015) Ethnologue 16/17/18th editions: a comprehensive review: online appendices
  2. ^ a b Iban at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Iban". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  4. ^ The Austronesians: historical and comparative perspectives. Peter Bellwood, James J. Fox, Darrell Tryon. ANU E Press, 2006. ISBN 1-920942-85-8, ISBN 978-1-920942-85-4
  5. ^
  6. ^

External linksEdit