Iban language

Jaku Iban
Native to Malaysia, Indonesia, 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 ibainclusive code
Individual code:
blg  Balau[3]
Glottolog iban1264[4]

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.[5] 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, 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-



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.[6] 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.[7]


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.

Other examples:

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-wo 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


mostly pronouns are put after subjects

Possessive pronouns

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

Sample phases:

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.


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
Proximal iya tu this person
Medial iya nya that person
Distal iya nyin the other person (furthest)



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
Proximal kitu going here
Medial kia going there
Distal kin going there or going yonder



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



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
Proximal baka tu like this, this way
Medial baka nya like that, that way
Distal baka nyin like that, that way


Sample lexicon

  • Adi - "Younger brother/sister"
  • Ai - "Water"
  • Ai Wong - "Waterfall"
  • Aja -"only"
  • Aka - "Elder brother/sister"
  • Aki - "Grandfather"
  • Amat/Amai - "really, truly"
  • Apai/Aba (Informal) - "Father"
  • Aram/am - "Let's go"
  • Asai - "Feeling"
  • Au - "Yes"
  • Ba - "At"
  • Bai - "Bring"
  • Baka selama - "Same as usual"
  • Baka - "like, as"
  • Baru - "New, just about now"
  • Bejalai - "To walk or going for a sojourn"
  • Belanda/belawa - Run
  • Dani - Wake up
  • Dini - Where
  • Empa - Eat
  • Ensanus/Ensana - The day before yesterday
  • Gali - Lie down
  • Indai/Ama (Informal) - "Mother"
  • Ini - "Grandmother"
  • Jelu - "Animal"
  • Kamah - Dirty
  • Kampung - "Jungle/Forest"
  • Kanan - "Right"
  • Kemari - Yesterday
  • Kemi - Pee
  • Kiba - "Left"
  • Labuh - Fall
  • Langit - "Sky"
  • Lenyau - Lost
  • Letung - Lake

  • Makai - Eat
  • Mereti - Good behavior
  • Nemu - Know
  • Ngelusu - Lazy
  • Ngirup - Drink
  • Nyumai/Manduk -Cook
  • Pegung - "Pond"
  • Remang - "Cloud"
  • Reti - The meaning of
  • Sayau - Love
  • Sebaka - "alike"
  • Sinu - Sad
  • Suba - a while ago
  • Sungai/Batang - "River"
  • Tabin/sakit - Sick
  • Tambai - Flag
  • Tanda' - Dance
  • Tasik - "Sea/ocean"
  • Tinduk/Mansuh mata - Sleep
  • Tuyu'/beli' - Stupid
  • Ukui/uduk - Dog
  • Utai tumbuh - "plant"

Sample phrases

Bible Translation

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.

Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Thy kingdom come, on earth as in heaven. Give us our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, 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

-Active verb sentence-

-Passive verb sentence-


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. 1 2 Iban at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Balau[2] at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström (2015) Ethnologue 16/17/18th editions: a comprehensive review: online appendices
  3. Hammarström (2015) Ethnologue 16/17/18th editions: a comprehensive review: online appendices
  4. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Iban". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  5. 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
  6. http://www.theborneopost.com/2012/06/20/long-lost-iban-alphabet-script-found/
  7. http://www.uitm.edu.my/index.php/en/research-news/reviving-the-iban-alphabet

External links

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