Iban language

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Jaku Iban
Native to Sarawak, Kalimantan, Brunei
Region Borneo
Ethnicity Iban people
Native speakers
790,000 (2013)[1]
700,000 L2 speakers in Malaysia (2013)[1]
Latin, Dunging
Language codes
ISO 639-2 iba
ISO 639-3 iba
Glottolog iban1264[2]

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 Sarawak, the Indonesian province of Kalimantan Barat 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.[3] 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.


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, Sebaruks, 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 Manok Renyau
Smell Nyium Lulum
Stupid Tuyuk, 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 Entau
See Meda Ngilau
Know Nemu Badak
Shirt Garik Kelatang
Run Belanda Belawak
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."
Entauk ku badak - "Enda ku nemu."



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, who reportedly spent fifteen years from 1947 to 1962 devising the script.[4] 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.


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 - was chase by
Tegagaika - outrun/-outpace

Other example:

Sayau - Love
Dikesayauka - Was loved by
Penyayau - Affection
Kiruh - Busy
Ngiruhka - to make someone busy
Pengiruh - preoccupied
Enjok - give
Berenjok - giving each other (present)
Dienjok - gave (past)
Deka enjok - will be given (future)
Kangau - call
Bekangau - calling each other (present)
Ngangau - calling (present)
Dikangau - was called (past)
Deka dikangau - will be call (future)

Personal pronouns[edit]

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/kuak You
Iya He/she/it/him/her
Tu-a We, us (excluding ourself)
Kitai We, us (including ourself)
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 - "You face"
Sulu nuan - "Your beloved"
Sekula kami - "Our school"
Ke pangan aku -"for my beloved"
Ke anak aku - "for my child"
Ari indai dik - "From your mother"
Ari bakih aku - "From my friend
mostly pronouns are put after subjects

Possessive pronouns[edit]

Engku - "mine"
Ngedi, Ngenuan - "yours"
Ngiya - "his/her"
Ngetua - "ours (both of us)"
Ngi sida - "them"

Sample phases:

Engku empu baju tu - "This shirt is mine."
Tu ngedi - "This is yours"
Siti nyin ngetua - "That one belong to both of us"

Demonstrative determiners[edit]

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.
Thats Ok.
Peda di nyin deh.
Look at that.

Demonstrative pronouns[edit]

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 itu this person
Medial inya that person
Distal inyin the other person (furthest)


Nama gaga itu kenya?.
Why is this person acting in such a way?

Kini ke inya tadi?
Where is he going? (Referring to the second closest person to the speaker)

Ni inyin tadi deh?
Where is the other (person) one?.(referring to third person which is the furthest form the speaker)


Demonstrative adverbs[edit]

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 ka.
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 bakatu/ketu like this, this way
Medial bakanya/kenya like that, that way
Distal bakanyin/kenyin like that, that way


Aku ka iya ketu.
I want it to be like this.
Nama di ngaga iya kenya?
Why did you treat him like this?
Uji gaga di bakanyin.
Try to do it like that.

Sample lexicon[edit]

Sample phrases[edit]

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-"I'm going back"
Aram bekelala-"Let's get to know each other"
Pengerindu-"Love, Passion"
Lelengau aku ke nuan-"I miss you/I am missing you"
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 ka 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"
Asaika kala meda nuan - "I feel like that I have seen you before"

Bible Translation[edit]

Apai kami di serega, kudus mih nama nuan, datai mih perintah nuan, jadi peneka nuan, baka ka dalam serega bakanya dalam bumi. Meri ka kami pengidup tiap ari. Ampunka penyalah kami, baka ka kami ti ngampunka urang ti salah ngelaban kami. Intu kami ari penguji, lepas ke kami ari penyai. Laban nuan ti bempu perintah,enggau kuasa enggau mulia. Dataika belama - lama iya. Amin.

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 phrase[edit]

-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.


  1. ^ a b Iban at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Iban". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ http://www.theborneopost.com/2012/06/20/long-lost-iban-alphabet-script-found/

External links[edit]