Sunday, February 23

Word user’s companions

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A WRITER is often at a loss for the word or phrase that best expresses his inner thoughts while composing an article; so is a speaker, another user of words. Ask any member of a Toastmaster’s Club who is picked on the spot to speak off the cuff during a Table Topic session and he will tell you how embarrassing it will be if he cannot think of a suitable word or words for the subject allotted to him.

FIRST OF IT’S KIND: Bup Sereba Jaku Iban — Iban thesaurus.

While the former has time to call for help from his reservoir of vocabulary or a work of reference such as a thesaurus, the latter is quite helpless. In a situation in which my toastmaster friend found himself last Tuesday, one has to stop halfway or else continue to be evaluated and make a charlie of oneself.

The appropriate words are often elusive especially for those who write or speak in a language other than their own. But once they have made friends with some aid, there’s no stopping the search for a tool with which to improve their powers of expression.

A good lexicon or better still a thesaurus, that of Roget’s, for instance, would be of great assistance when you are in trouble with words.

On Monday, I bought the ‘Bup Sereba Reti Jaku Iban’ for my granddaughter who has started learning Iban and Bahasa Malaysia, our national language.

When I emailed her about the book for her birthday, she replied: “Aki, what kind of animal is the thesaurus; does it still roam the earth?”

I shot back, “No, Laura, it is not what you think – the imitation dinosaur – that you saw in the Sarawak Museum. Let your Dad read this message and he will tell you that it’s a book written in Iban, a hybrid between a thesaurus, an encyclopaedia and a dictionary.

“He will tell you how to use it. He can look up the word chapi or sapi. Then he will search for two other words makai and rumput and make a sentence with all these. If he joins them according to the rule of grammar, the sentence will be something like ‘Sapi makai rumput’ or, in English, ‘Cows eat grass’. You can see a lot of these moos where you are.”

This latest addition to the list of Iban publications is useful for people from various river systems in the state as well as for the non-Iban speakers; both would benefit greatly if other dictionaries are also consulted. One – ‘An Iban-English Dictionary’ by AJN Richards would be a good companion; another friend is ‘Handy Reference Dictionary of Iban and English’ by Vinson and Joane Sutlive. In 1989, a very useful work appeared on the scene – ‘Kamus Iban-Bahasa Malaysia’ by Henry Gana Ngadi and Hussain Jamil.

Long before these, there were other books such as ‘A Sea Dayak Dictionary’ compiled by W Howell and DJS Bailey; ‘A Dictionary of Sea Dayak’ by NC Scott, followed by ‘English-Iban Vocabulary’ by Rev G Bruggeman.

That 1,359-page ‘Bup Sereba Reti Jaku Iban’ weighing almost 1kg will cost me a mint to send by air all the way to New Zealand. But it will be an investment worth its weight in gold in the years to come. The first of its kind, all in the Iban language book – written by Iban speakers for members of their community as well as for anyone else interested in the development of their language – is a collector’s item.

I must commend the writers and the collaborators for a project well done, and the Tun Jugah Foundation for producing and publishing it, in time for the Iban Language Forum (FJI) next Saturday. If invited, I would be glad to participate in the seminar. It would be fun to hear people ‘speaking in tongues’ – experts from many districts in various pronunciations and twangs, hopefully touching on the bup, and possibly adding a variety of other words (not yet incorporated in this first edition of the BSRDJI).

I have had a quick look at the first few pages of the volume and spotted the omission of some Sebuyau words as spoken or used in Lundu; these I will submit for the next edition of the bup. I was assured by Dr Robert Menua Saleh, one of the editors, that any new entries would be examined before they are included in future copies.

If I may be allowed to suggest, the vocabulary of the Remun or Melikin should also be adopted in future editions. I think our relatives, the Mualang, the Bugau and the Kantu, the Memaloh and other Ibanic groups from Kalimantan would be happy to add a few entries of their own words. Accept them.

The book may have to be printed in two volumes eventually and will be so heavy – enough to sink the Queen Mary as the Englishmen would say. Such is the wealth of the Iban Language, now taught in certain schools in Sarawak. In this connection, the efforts by the late Michael Buma, and Albert Dass, former senior civil servant, to form the Society for the Advancement of Iban Language and Literature (SAIL) in 1967 would not be in vain. I’m sure the latter would be happy to attend the Forum if someone from the organising committee would be kind enough to give him a tinkle.

I have not read the book from page to page nor examined the contents with a fine toothed comb; it may take a week or two to do so. Nonetheless, from those pages so far flipped, the BSRDJI is a good start as a companion for the writer or speaker of Iban.

However, the authors should be prepared to accept additional Iban words from other users of the book for inclusion in future editions.

They should be able to appreciate constructive feedback and comment like ‘Semua berau bisi antah’. In Malay this saying would be similarly expressed as ‘Semua gading ada retaknya’.

So now we’ve got a good topic of discussion at the forthcoming FJI, and a casual subject of conversation during theSarawak Regatta at the Kuching Waterfront while we celebrate Malaysia Day.

Speak Iban, mate (Ngena Jaku’ Iban, wai).

Selamat Harijadi Malaysia to everyone.