Iban language

The Iban language (jaku Iban) is spoken by the Iban, a branch of the Dayak ethnic group, who live in Brunei, the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan and in the Malaysian state of Sarawak. It belongs to the Malayic languages, a Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family.

Jaku Iban
Native toBrunei, Indonesia, Malaysia
Native speakers
2,300,000 (2017)[1]
1,700,000 L2 speakers in Malaysia (2017)[1]
Latin, Dunging
Language codes
ISO 639-2iba
ISO 639-3iba
An Iban speaker, recorded in Malaysia.


Iban is classified as a Malayic language, a Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family. The language is closely 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.[2]


The Iban language is the native language of the Iban people, who fall under the general grouping of "Dayak" (i.e. native peoples of Borneo). Previously, the Iban were referred to during the colonial period as "Sea Dayaks". Their homeland is the island of Borneo, which is politically divided between Malaysia and Indonesia; the Iban can mostly be found in the Malaysian state of Sarawak.

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. In big cities like Kuching, only a small number of schools teach Iban. This is due to the limited number of teachers who are capable of teaching it. Form 5 and Form 3 students are allowed to take Iban in their SPM & PT3 exam.


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 ngilauNadai aku meda. ('I did not see it.')
  • Entauk ku badakEnda 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



Iban has the following consonant inventory:[3]

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


Iban has a six-vowel system, with five cardinal vowels plus schwa:[4]

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

Vowel sounds are nasalized when preceded by a nasal consonant.[4]

Writing system

Although the Iban language is presently written using the Latin alphabet, an Iban syllabary[5] (the Dunging script) 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. The Iban syllabary is published but is not widely distributed; 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 in 2010, called LaserIban. His aim is to help preserve the Iban alphabet in digital form in the modern world. The LaserIban font is available for Windows and Macintosh computers and is completely cross-platform compatible. His work has also led to the creation of a teaching program and the transcription of several traditional folktales.[7][8]


Lexical roots can be expanded by many affixes in Iban, as exemplified here with the verb gagai.

  • 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, 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.[9]

singular dual plural
First-person exclusive aku kami səduai kami
First-person inclusive --- tua kitai
Second person deʔ
deʔ səduai
noan səduai
Third person iya səduai sidaʔ


  • 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'

Pronouns are primarily 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
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 from 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
Proximal kitu going here
Medial kia going there
Distal kin going there, 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
Proximal ditu here
Medial dia there
Distal din there, yonder


  • Ditu ku nganti nuan. 'I wait for you here.'
  • Dia ku nganti nuan. '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
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.'

Interrogative words

Iban also has a few interrogative words: sapa, nama, ni, lapa, kemaya and berapa.

  • Sapa – Who









Sapa empu jam tu?

Who own watch this

Who owns this watch?

  • Nama – What









Nama gaga nuan ditu?

What doing you here

What are you doing here?

  • Ni – Where (Dini and Ba ni also used to ask for specific location)








just now

Ni ai ku tadi?

Where water/drink my {just now}

Where is my drink?

  • Lapa – Why (Nama kebuah also used.)







Lapa nuan nyabak?

Why you crying

Why are you crying?

  • Kemaya – When






going to



Kemaya tua deka betemu?

When we {going to} meet

When are we going to meet?

  • Berapa – How many


How many









Berapa iku manuk tupi nuan?

{How many} CL chicken raise you

How many chicken you raise?

  • Bakani – How





mua ari




Bakani gaya {mua ari} saritu?

How look weather today

How is the weather today?



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/Aba Father
Indai/Ina 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/sister
Uchu Grandchildren
Ichit Great grandchildren

For extended family in Iban

Iban English
Entua Parent-in-law
Entua ke laki Father-in-law
Entua ke indu Mother-in-law
Apai/Indai tiri Stepfather or stepmother
Menyadi/Madi ipar Siblings-in-law
Ipar ke laki Brother-in-law
Ipar ke indu Sister-in-law
Aki ichit Great-grandfather
Ini ichit Great-grandmother
Anak buah Nibling
Anak buah ke laki Nephew
Anak buah ke indu Niece
Petunggal Cousin
Isan One's parent to parents-in-law


  • Anak buah bini ku nya. 'That is my wife's nibling.'
  • Anak buah ke indu laki ku nya. 'That is my husband's niece.'
  • Entua laki ku nya. 'That is my husband's parent-in-law.'
  • Entua ke laki laki ku nya. 'That is my husband's father-in-law.'
  • Petunggal bini ku nya. 'That is my wife's cousin.'


Iban English/Roman
Ensanus/Ensana Day before yesterday
Kemari Yesterday
Saritu Today
Pagila Tomorrow
Lusa Day after tomorrow
Tulat 3 days later
Lupat The fourth day


  • 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 (first 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 second
Nadai ngawa nya/enda ngawa Nevermind/it does not matter
Ka belaya Do you want to fight?
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 love you
Asai ke kala meda nuan I feel like I have seen you before

Bible translation

Genesis 1:1–3


  1. Iban at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. Bellwood, Peter; Fox, James J.; Tryon, Darrell (eds.). The Austronesians: Historical and Comparative Perspectives. Canberra: ANU Press. doi:10.22459/a.09.2006. ISBN 978-1-920942-85-4.
  3. Asmah Haji Omar (1969), p. 38.
  4. Asmah Haji Omar (1969), p. 51.
  5. "Iban". Omniglot. Retrieved 20 August 2019.
  6. Churchill Edward (20 June 2012). "'Long Lost' Iban Alphabet Script 'Found'". The Borneo Post. Retrieved 20 August 2019.
  7. "Reviving the Iban alphabet". UiTM News Hub. 2016-03-15. Retrieved 2019-10-30.
  8. Universiti Teknologi MARA (18 May 2015). "Reviving the Iban Alphabet". Phys.org. Retrieved 20 August 2019.
  9. Asmah Haji Omar (1969), p. 185.
  10. "Bup Kudus Baru". G-KRIS. Archived from the original on 2018-10-22.


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