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Article Released Mon-22nd-February-2010 05:55 GMT
Contact: Megawati Omar Institution: Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM)
 Iban Alphabet: A Revival

Bromeley Philip of UiTM Sarawak is attempting to revive study on the Iban alphabet.

The Iban (Iban (refers to people) is a plural term in itself, similar to the usage of the term chinese) of Sarawak do not possess any form of writing system that can be used universally within its large community. There was however an interesting individual effort at inventing some forms of writing system. One known writing system is that invented by Dunging anak Gunggu, acknowledged in the Encyclopaedia of Iban Studies (2001). This Iban Alphabet is not an ancient system of writing as the inventor lived well into the mid-80s. The alphabet manifests the dynamism of a modern alphabet suitable for practical inscription. It comprises syllabic writing and alphabetic writing symbols. The former consists of syllabary, representing syllables in the Iban language. The latter comprises true alphabet of consonants and individual vowels or vowel clusters.

The earliest recognition of Dunging’s Alphabet can be found in a comprehensive Iban-English Dictionary written by Anthony Richards (1981). A very meaningful recognition of Dunging’s Alphabet was made in the Encyclopaedia of Iban Studies published by Tun Jugah Foundation in 2001. His alphabet can be found under the “alphabet” entry which devotes several pages to Dunging’s related work. It is very clear that Dunging’s Alphabet is the only known writing system within the Iban community which therefore strongly suggests that his alphabet could be the only alphabet ever to have come into existence within the Iban society. In this respect, it is possible therefore to acknowledge that Dunging’s Alphabet may well also be known as the Iban Alphabet. In 1947 Dunging invented 77 characters/symbols representing phonological sounds in the Iban language. His alphabet was taught to a few of his nephews while the rest of the people in his community were too illiterate to appreciate the significance of his alphabet then. Undaunted by the poor response from the surrounding community, Dunging kept at revising and refining his alphabet until after almost 15 years he managed to discard some overlapping and redundant characters.

The alphabet is practical in terms of usage as it can be used to spell Iban words accurately. There are several sounds in the Iban language that cannot be distinguished distinctively in terms of spelling using the Roman alphabet; the word ‘mata” (for eye) and “mata” (for raw – fruits/food). The Iban alphabet however can distinguish between the exact sounds of the syllables to represent each sound in accurate orthography. In fact, it is very clear that Dunging’s Iban alphabet is a comprehensive system of writing that provides sufficient characters representing accurate syllabic sounds in the Iban language. The alphabet is characterised by features of modern alphabet. It comprises 59 characters whereby 16 characters symbolise consonants and the rest (43) represent vowels in the forms of vowel clusters and diphthongs. The Iban alphabet in its computer fonts is known as LaserIban which is available in the form of software for installation in computers. LaserIban fonts for Windows and Macintosh are completely cross-platform compatible, as regular Word files, in the same manner as regular English fonts. By developing the characters into computer fonts, the system of writing will become more systematic for inscriptional purposes. With a systematic set of alphabet, it should enable the users to use it more conveniently considering the fact that there are 59 characters to remember. In other words, a systematic system of writing enables its practical use with much ease.


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