Iban-English dictionary another step to strengthen Iban language

By Danielle Sendou Ringgit
[email protected]

No matter where you go in Sarawak, it’s not unusual to hear Iban being spoken.

As Ibans make up the largest ethnic group in Sarawak, the language is widely spoken not only by native speakers, but also among other races as well.

The language is kind of easy to pick up as some words also share similarities with Malay, but more so with Bahasa Sarawak, another language widely used across Sarawak.

While it’s safe to say that Iban won’t be going the way of the Moghol language from Afghanistan and the Angku language from Burma – both of which are listed as critically endangered by UNESCO – it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work towards strengthening the language.

With 1890 pages, the dictionary has Iban as a source language and English as a target language

With 1,890 pages, the dictionary has Iban as a source language and English as a target language

In the effort to preserve and promote Iban culture, particularly in performing arts, language and literature, the Dayak Cultural Foundation (DCF) published ‘A Comprehensive Iban-English Dictionary’.

Launched on September 7, the dictionary is the result of the effort and collaboration of four authors: Janang Ensiring, Dr. Robert Menua Saleh, Joanne Sutlive and Dr. Vinson Sutlive.

With 1,890 pages, the dictionary contains over 30,000 entries of headwords and derivatives with definitions, synonyms, antonyms, idioms, pronunciation, etymologies and example phrases and sentences.

“Not only will the dictionary facilitate the learning of the Iban language amongst native speakers, but also of non-native speakers,” said DCF chairman and Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas.

Uggah handing over the dictionary to Adenan as witnessed by Jabu

Adenan receiving a copy of the dictionary by Uggah as witnessed by Jabu during the launching ceremony

“The dictionary can also clarify not only similarities but differences in the meanings of similar terminologies or terms that may be used in other languages. Such clarification helps to avoid misunderstanding between races,” he added.

Also present during the launching ceremony of the dictionary was Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Adenan Satem who noted that it was important for people to preserve their mother tongue to prevent it from going extinct.

“I am reminded of what happened to the language of the Arapaho, the Apache, the Cheyenne, the Arawak and so on,” he said.

These languages are listed as endangered languages by UNESCO.

“There is some remaining perhaps in digital form in some museum, but nobody speaks them anymore. We do not want that to happen to Iban,” he said.

The idea of publishing the dictionary was first mooted by DCF patron former deputy chief minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Alfred Jabu Numpang and chairman of the Tun Jugah Foundation cum Managing Trustee of the Dayak Foundation Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr Leonard Linggi Jugah.

It is an effort by the foundation in response to governmental challenges establishing and upholding the Iban language alongside Malay while strengthening the standard of English among Sarawakians.

Jabu touted the dictionary as the most comprehensive and authoritative up-to-date resource on the Iban language.

“This makes it an essential reference for the general public, students, business people, tourist and scholars of Iban studies,” he said.

“It is particularly compiled for users who are proficient in Iban but who are determined to learn and improve their mastery of English. It is useful also for non-Iban speakers to foster a better understanding of ways of thinking and language expressions in Iban,” he added.

Aside from speaking the language for conversational purposes, it was introduced as a subject to primary schools in 1957 and secondary school in 1963.

In 2012, it was reported that 71,481 students in the state are taking Iban as a subject in 693 primary schools and 95 secondary schools in Sarawak. Of this, 48, 969 are primary school students while the remaining were secondary students.

With quite a number of students taking it as a subject in school, the number could increase every year and this is helpful in the preservation of the language from dying out.

Aside from that among the efforts done to promote the language is by introducing the language as a minor program in higher education, Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) in Tanjung Malim, Perak in August 2010 in hopes that it could produce more students specialising develop the capacity of the language.

As a niche language only spoken by a small community of people around the globe, it would be a shame for it to face the same fate as other endangered languages.

Those interested in getting a copy may make their orders at  The Dayak Cultural Foundation at Level 6, Tun Jugah Tower, No.18, Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, Kuching.

You may also call them at 082-234151, fax at 082-423141 or email [email protected]

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