Iban language

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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 iba – inclusive code
Individual code:
blg – Balau[1]
Glottolog iban1264[3]

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 examinations 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.[citation needed] 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 which speak in different dialects. The most formal, intermediate, and working dialect is the Saribas dialect, and mainly Betong and Saratok. Others such as Balau, Sebuyau, Ulu Ai, and Rejang are mutually intelligible throughout the Sarawak region. The exception is the Iban Remun/milikin dialect, which is still understood by Ibans from other districts. In West Kalimantan, dialects such as Bugau, Seberuang, Mualang, Chengkang, Sebaru, and Dau are more disparate.

Dialect comparison

Comparison between Sarawak Iban 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/Milikin
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.)
Comparison between Standard Iban and Sebuyau
English Standard Iban Sebuyau/Kua'
You Nuan Kua'
Why Lapa Mentang
Stupid Tuyu, beli Banga
No Enda Adai
Later Lagi Ila
Tomorrow Pagila Pagi
Know Nemu Siba
To hurry Beguai/Berumban Temengat
Side dishes Engkayu Hempah
Come out Pansut Temenyul
Restless Kekasak Kekajal
Untidy Temerak Kemada
Like this Baka nya Baka nia
Causes Ngasuh Mela
Shocked Tekenyit Tekanyat
Slow Lubah Lumbu



Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive voiceless p t k ʔ
voiced b d ɡ
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Affricate voiceless
Fricative s h
Lateral l
Rhotic r
Approximant w j


Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e ə o
Open a

Vowel sounds are nasalized when preceding nasal consonants.

Writing system

Although the Iban language is presently written using the Latin alphabet, an Iban syllabary[5] was devised by Dunging anak Gunggu, who reportedly spent fifteen years from 1947 to 1962 devising the script.[6] Twenty generations before Dunging, which would represent approximately 400–600 years, an ancestor named Renggi also devised a script, but it was apparently lost in a flood.[citation needed] 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.[7]

In 2010, extending Dunging's work, Dr Bromeley Philip of Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) Sarawak developed computer fonts for the Iban alphabet, called LaserIban. His aim is to help preserve the Iban alphabet in digital form in the modern world. The LaserIban is available for Windows and Macintosh computers and is completely cross-platform compatible.[8]


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 chased by
  • dipegagaika = being chased by many
  • pengagai = chaser
  • tegagaika = outrun/outpace

There are four types of affixes in Iban language, namely prefixes, suffixes, circumfixes and infixes.

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)

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 pronouns

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 pronouns

Iban English
engku mine
enggi di, ngedi, your
enggi iya, ngi'ya his/her
enggi tua ours (both of us)
engkita belong to all of you
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 determiners

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 pronouns

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 adverbs

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. - Let's 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's 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.



Iban Iban Standard English
San Sa/satu One
Duan Dua Two
Dangku Tiga Three
Dangkan Empat Four
Dana/Tebak Lima Five
Dia/Tunggul Nam Six
Tuchung/Kusil Tujuh Seven
Dalun/Kulat Lapan Eight
Dunggau/Kedu Semilan Nine
Dupuk/Kedat Sepuluh Ten


Iban English
Apai Father
Indai Mother
Aki Grandfather
Ini Grandmother
Aya Uncle
Ibu Aunt
Menyadi/Madi Siblings
Aka/Ika/Menyadi tuai Elder brother/Elder sister
Adi/Menyadi biak Younger brother
Uchu Grandchildren
Ichit Great grandchildren


Iban English/Roman
Ensanus Day before yesterday
Kemari Yesterday
Saritu Today
Pagila Tomorrow
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:

Iban English/Gregorian
Empalai rubai January
Emperega/Empekap February
Lelang March
Turun panggul April
Sandih tundan May
Tujuh June
Berenggang reban July
Kelebun August
Labuh benih September
Gantung senduk October
Chechanguk November
Pangka di labu(1st month of Iban calendar) December

Sample phrases

Iban English/Roman
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

Bible Translation

Genesis 1:1-3

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.[9]


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.


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

Asmah Haji Omar, The Iban Language of Sarawak: A Grammatical Description. Kuala Lumpur: Kementarian Pelajaran Malaysia, 1981.

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)
    Balau[1] 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. ^ "Iban". Omniglot. Retrieved 20 August 2019.
  6. ^ "'Long lost' Iban alphabet script 'found'". The Borneo Post. 20 June 2012. Retrieved 20 August 2019.
  7. ^ http://www.uitm.edu.my/index.php/en/research-news/reviving-the-iban-alphabet
  8. ^ "Reviving the Iban alphabet". Phys.org. 18 May 2015. Retrieved 20 August 2019.
  9. ^ http://www.gerijaiban.com/bup_kudus.php

External links

  • Ator Sambiang Mass Baru: The Holy Eucharist in Iban (1980) Anglican eucharistic liturgy digitized by Richard Mammana
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