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. 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.
|Native to||Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei|
700,000 L2 speakers in Malaysia (2013)
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/milikin 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:
|English||Balau (Sarawak)||Mualang (Kalimantan)|
-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.)
|Like this||Baka nya||Baka nia|
|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]|
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. 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.
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/playing with each other
- begagaika = Chasing something/someone
- ngagai = to chase
- digagai = being chase by
- dipegagaika = being chased by many
- pengagai = chaser
- tegagaika = outrun/-outpace
|Type of noun affixes||Affix||Example of root word||Example of derived word|
|Prefix||pe-||mangah (angry)||pemangah (hot tempered)|
|pen-||datai (arrive)||penatai (arrival)|
|penge-||rindu (love) (verb)||pengerindu (love) (noun)|
|be-||reta (property, possessions)||bereta (rich)|
|bepe-||rindang (entertained)||beperindang (being entertained )|
|beke- bete||kitang (hang)||bekekitang (hanging in group)|
|ke-||rimpak (break)||kerimpak (broken pieces)|
|m- n- me- nge- nye||panduk (cooked)||manduk (cooking)|
|di-||sium (kiss)||disium (being kissed)|
|dipe-||jaku (word, talk)||dipejaku (being talk about, gossiped)|
|se-||iku (tail)||seiku, siku (one (person) )|
|sepe(m)-||panjai (long)||sepemanjai (as long as, measurement of long)|
|te-||indik (footstep)||terindik (accidentally stepping on something)|
|Infix||⟨er⟩||titik (drip)||teritik (dripping)|
|Suffix||-ka||pasuk (wear)||pasukka (wear) (command)|
|-i||garam (salt)||garami, gerami (marinade)|
|Circumfix||ng-...-kn||ayah (waste)||ngayahka (wasting, playing)|
|be-...-ka||kena (hit, for)||bekenaka (wears)|
- 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)
- 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
|First-person exclusive||aku||kenduai iya||kami|
|Second person||nuan, di||seduai (di)||kita|
|Third person||iya||seduai iya||sida|
|Nuan/dik/kua' (glottalized -should not add 'k')||You|
|Tua (the two of us)||We, us (including ourselves)
|Tua||Both of us|
|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
|enggi di, ngedi,||your|
|enggi iya, ngi'ya||his/her|
|enggi tua||ours (both of us)|
|engkita||belong to all of you|
- baju tu engku - "This shirt is mine."
- Tu enggi nuan - "This is yours"
- Siti nyin enggi tua - "That one belongs to both of us"
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.
|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.
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.
|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 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.
|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. - Let's go there. (Referring to location far away from speaker)
|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.
|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.
|Aka/Ika/Menyadi tuai||Elder brother/Elder sister|
|Adi/Menyadi biak||Younger brother|
|Ensanus||Day before yesterday|
|Lusa||Day after tomorrow|
|Tulat||3 days later|
|Lupat||The fourth day|
Example: Tulat tua betemu - We'll meet again the third day.
Ensanus ku bisi meda iya - I saw him two days ago.
The Iban calendar is one month ahead of the Gregorian calendar as follows:
|Pangka di labu(1st month in Iban calendar)||December|
- Nama berita nuan? - "How are you?"
- Sapa nama nuan? - "What is your name?"
- Berapa/mesa 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"
- lalu nemuai! - "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 tua - "Let's get to know each other"
- Pengerindu - "Love, Passion"
- Aku lelengauka nuan - "I miss you/I am missing you"
- 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/what is that for"
- Selamat pagi, Pengajar. - "Good morning, Teacher."
- Enda nemu aku tu - "I don't know"
- Aram ngirup mih kitai - "Let's we drink"
- Ka ke pasar ku pagila - "I want to go to the town tomorrow"
- 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)"
- Aku meruan sayauka nuan belama - "I will always loving you"
- Asai ke kala meda nuan - "I feel like that I have seen you before"
Ba pun iya kelia, lebuh Allah Taala berengkah ngaga langit enggau dunya, dunya endang apin bisi bakal tauka gamal sereta nadai utai nguan. Semina ribut ti deras ari Allah Taala aja ti bepuput atas tasik ti agi petang. Allah Taala lalu bejaku, “Awakka penampak pegari.” Penampak lalu pegari. Allah Taala meda penampak nya manah; lalu Iya nyeraraka penampak nya ari pemetang. Iya ngumbai penampak nya “Siang” lalu pemetang nya dikumbai Iya “Malam.” Lemai ambis lalu pagi pen datai. Nya hari ti keterubah.
In the beginning God created heaven and earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep water. The spirit of God was hovering over the water. Then God said, "Let there be light!" So there was light. God saw the light was good. So God separated the light from the darkness. God named the light "day", and the darkness he named "night". There was evening, then morning, the first day.
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
- Hammarström (2015) Ethnologue 16/17/18th editions: a comprehensive review: online appendices
- Iban at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
Balau at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
- Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Iban". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
- 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
- Ator Sambiang Mass Baru: The Holy Eucharist in Iban (1980) Anglican eucharistic liturgy digitized by Richard Mammana
|Iban language test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator|