Academic journal article Borneo Research Bulletin

A Comprehensive Iban-English Dictionary

Academic journal article Borneo Research Bulletin

A Comprehensive Iban-English Dictionary

Article excerpt

Janang Ensiring, Joanne Veydt Sutlive, Robert Menua Saleh, and Vinson H. Sutlive, 2016, A Comprehensive Iban-English Dictionary. Kuching: The Dayak Cultural Foundation in cooperation with The Tun Jugah Foundation. ISBN 978-967-11948-4-3; xv + 1893 pp. (hb).

A Comprehensive Iban-English Dictionary is a landmark achievement. At just short of 1900 pages and containing over 31,000 entries, it is, without doubt, the most comprehensive dictionary of its kind that has ever been compiled for any indigenous language of Borneo. It is also one of the first in which native-speaking lexicographers and local cultural heritage foundations have played a central role in its conception and publication, although, as the editors make clear, countless others, Iban and non-Iban alike, working for over a century, helped lay its foundations.

A Comprehensive Iban-English Dictionary, while a landmark, is therefore not without predecessors. The first of these, Howell and Bailey's A Sea Dyak Dictionary, was originally published in 1900. A major work for its time, A Sea Dyak Dictionary reflected important social forces then at play in Sarawak. Of its two compilers, Rev. William Howell was an Anglican priest based at Sabu, near Simanggang (Sri Aman), in what was then the Second Division of Sarawak, while the other, D.J.S. Bailey, was a long-time Brooke administrative officer. At the time, the Anglican mission was actively promoting literacy in Iban, through its Second Division schools, a process enthusiastically embraced by many local Iban, particularly in the Saribas and Kalaka districts, and the dictionary served as an important tool in the early development of Iban as a written language. At the same time, Iban was also emerging, together with Malay, as a major language of local administration and the dictionary contributed importantly to that development as well.

The next dictionary to appear was N.C. Scott's A Dictionary of Sea Dayak, published in 1956 by the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies. Unlike Howell and Bailey, Scott had no first-hand knowledge of Sarawak, but was a trained linguist. Consequently, his dictionary, compiled in London where he worked with a native Iban-speaker, provided a more consistent and phonetically adequate orthography. It also added additional entries, derivative forms, and, most usefully, scores of additional example sentences. Recognizing the Second Division bias of his own and previous work, Scott added a 6-page glossary of Third Division Iban at the end of his dictionary.

The next bilingual dictionary was Anthony Richards' An Iban-English Dictionary published in 1981 by Oxford University Press. Like the present work, it, too, was a landmark. Through later reprinted editions, published in Malaysia by Fajar Bakti, an affiliate of OUP, Richards' became the first relatively accessible dictionary to be available to local Iban users. Shortly afterwards, it was followed by the first Iban-Malay dictionary, Hussain Jamil and Henry Gana Ngadi's Kamus Bahasa Iban-Bahasa Malaysia, published in 1989 by the Dewan Bahasa dan Pusaka.

Richards, like Bailey, was a long-serving administrative officer whose career in Sarawak spanned nearly 30 years, from the end of Brooke era through the first year of Malaysian independence. Much of that career was spent in Iban-speaking areas, including both the Second and Third Divisions. While Richards, like the compilers of the present dictionary, acknowledged his debt to the earlier lexicographers, Howell, Bailey and Scott, incorporating the greater part of their lexical corpus into his own work, An Iban-English Dictionary added much that was new. Without doubt, its major contribution was the infusion into this growing lexicon of an encyclopedic wealth of cultural information. Drawing on special speech genres, including leka main (words of play), the poetic, highly metaphoric language of Iban oratory, prayers, chants and ritual invocation, and the vocabularies specific to different spheres of Iban life, such as farming, healing, augury, legal adjudication, storytelling, and the verbal arts, his dictionary opened up large areas of language use that had hitherto been barely touched on in earlier dictionaries. …

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