Sanda Bidayuh

One fascinating facet of the Bidayuh is their propensity for making fun of each other. The Bibukar enjoy pointing out how the Bisadong sound so excitable and brusque, speaking loudly with exaggerated accents. While the Bijagoi/Bisingai also make fun of the Bibukar/Bisadong way of speaking, they are usually known for exchanging their Ls with Rs, and vice-versa. Plus they can be ‘lampang’.

The Bidayuh has no common tongue, like Mandarin for the Chinese. Each group differs markedly from each other. The Biatah, residing in Kuching and Siburan, straddled between Bau (Jagoi/Singai) and Serian (Bukar/Sadong), speak a language that is understood by both sides simply because it contains words and speech patterns that are taken from both. The Bibukar/Bisadong usually can’t understand the Bijagoi/Bisingai language much (and vice-versa, maybe about 30%), and find it hard to learn the pronounciations.

A legend related by former Bidayuh Temenggong of Kuching, Datuk William Nais (Chang Pat Foh, 2004), the Bidayuh from Kalimantan originally spoke a single language, known as the Peroh dialect. They called themselves Dayak Biperoh. But after the migration, they lost contact with each other and developed in isolation.

The Salako-Lara has an altogether different language, sounding somewhat similar to Malay (some people think they are more Iban than Bidayuh). The Bibukar speaks in a somewhat placid manner, a flat sound. The Bisadong (as are those who are closer to them), as they move towards the border, sound stoccato-ish, jerking certain words and dragging the ends. They also speak with extreme enthusiasm, loud and with a certain musicality that some find annoying, other entertaining. The Bisingai is a bit different in that they speak fast, also in stoccato, while the Bijagoi less so, with the Bikrokong being one extreme and the Biduyoh (nearer towards the border) somewhat less so (Some Bijagoi mention it’s not even easy for them to understand the Bisingai). The Biatah, being somewhat in between, depending on how close the villages are to which side, follows more or less the same pattern.

Legend has it that when the Bidayuh broke up and ventured into new lands, effectively isolating themselves from each other, they drank the water from the nearest rivers. It’s said the water adjusted their tongues, making them pronounce words differently.

Personally, being Bibukar, listening to the Bisadong is always entertaining. Very bullish. Yes, the Bijagoi/Bisingai enjoy making fun of us from Serian, but it’s all in good fun. Serious people aren’t taken seriously, remember? I have never heard the Salako-Lara dialect before, and hopefully find someone who does.

I’m lucky I can speak the language, although not fluently. But I try to learn and increase my vocabulary. Seeing as to how this native language faces a lot of challenges when it comes to adapting it into a formal written language to be taught due to its diversity, I believe we must find a way to create a more systematic and uniform system for the words. I’m surprised at how the “defenders of the culture” talk and talk, but ultimately, nothing is done. The people of power are too busy to bother with such trivial matters, and then decry the loss of the language’s purity. It’s the average Joe, like you and I, who are (hopefully) doing something to change that.


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