(Pāli) or Magadhan is a
language native to the Indian
subcontinent. It is widely studied because it is the language of much
of the earliest extant literature of
as collected in the
or Tipiṭaka and is the sacred language of some religious
and all texts of Theravāda Buddhism.
1 Origin and development
1.3 Early history
1.3.1 Pāli and Paiśācī
1.3.3 Early western views
1.3.4 Modern scholarship
3 Emic views of Pali
5.1 Nominal inflection
5.1.3 i-stems and u-stems
6 Linguistic analysis of a
8.1 Vowels and diphthongs
8.2.1 Sound changes
126.96.36.199 General rules
188.8.131.52 Total assimilation
184.108.40.206.1 Regressive assimilations
220.127.116.11.2 Progressive assimilations
18.104.22.168 Partial and mutual assimilation
8.2.4 Other changes
9.1 Alphabet with diacritics
9.2 Transliteration on computers
9.3 Text in ASCII
10 See also
13 Further reading
14 External links
Origin and development
Pali is used as a name for the language of the Theravada
canon. According to the
Pali Text Society's Dictionary, the word seems
to have its origins in commentarial traditions, wherein the Pāli (in
the sense of the line of original text quoted) was distinguished from
the commentary or vernacular translation that followed it in the
manuscript. As such, the name of the language has
caused some debate among scholars of all ages; the spelling of the
name also varies, being found with both long "ā" [ɑː] and short "a"
[a], and also with either a retroflex [ɭ] or non-retroflex [l]
"l" sound. Both the long ā and retroflex ḷ are seen in the ISO
ALA-LC rendering, Pāḷi; however, to this day there is no
single, standard spelling of the term, and all four possible spellings
can be found in textbooks. R. C. Childers translates the
word as "series" and states that the language "bears the epithet in
consequence of the perfection of its grammatical structure".
In the 19th century, the British Orientalist Robert Caesar Childers
argued that the true or geographical name of the
Pali language was
Magadhi Prakrit, and that because pāli means "line, row, series", the
early Buddhists extended the meaning of the term to mean "a series of
books", so Palibhasa means "language of the texts". However, modern
scholarship has regarded
Pali as a mix of several
from around the 3rd century BCE, combined together and partially
Sanskritized. The closest artifacts to
Pali that have been found in
Edicts of Ashoka
Edicts of Ashoka found at Gujarat, in the west of India,
leading some scholars to associate
Pali with this region of western
There is persistent confusion as to the relation of Pāḷi to the
vernacular spoken in the ancient kingdom of Magadha, which was located
around modern-day Bihār.
Pali, as a Middle Indo-Aryan language, is different from
with regard to its dialectal base than the time of its origin. A
number of its morphological and lexical features show that it is not a
direct continuation of Ṛgvedic Vedic Sanskrit. Instead it descends
from one or more dialects that were, despite many similarities,
different from Ṛgvedic.
However, this view is not shared by all scholars. Some, like A.C.
Woolner, believe that
Pali is derived from Vedic Sanskrit, but not
necessarily from Classical Sanskrit.
Pāli and Paiśācī
Paiśācī is a largely unattested literary language of classical
India that is mentioned in
Sanskrit grammars of antiquity.
It is found grouped with the
Prakrit languages, with which it shares
some linguistic similarities, but was not considered a spoken language
by the early grammarians because it was understood to have been purely
a literary language.
In works of
Sanskrit poetics such as Daṇḍin's Kavyadarsha, it is
also known by the name of Bhūtabhāṣa, an epithet which can be
interpreted as 'dead language' (i.e., with no surviving speakers), or
bhuta means past and bhasha means language i.e. 'a language spoken in
past. Evidence which lends support to this interpretation is that
literature in Paiśācī is fragmentary and extremely rare but may
once have been common. There is no known complete work in this
language; however, several scholars specializing in
Indology such as
Sten Konow, Felix Lacôte and Alfred Master, have argued
that Paiśācī was the ancient name for Pāli.
Theravada sources refer to the
Pali language as "Magadhan" or the
"language of Magadha". This identification first appears in the
commentaries, and may have been an attempt by Buddhists to associate
themselves more closely with the Maurya Empire. But the four most
important places in his life are all outside of it. It is likely that
he taught in several closely related dialects of Middle Indo-Aryan,
which had a high degree of mutual intelligibility. There is no
attested dialect of Middle Indo-Aryan with all the features of Pali.
Pali has some commonalities with both the western Ashokan Edicts at
Girnar in Saurashtra, and the Central-Western
Prakrit found in the
eastern Hathigumpha inscription. The similarities of the Saurashtran
inscriptions to the
Hathigumpha inscription may be misleading because
the latter suggests the Ashokan scribe may not have translated the
material he received from
Magadha into the vernacular.[citation
Whatever the relationship of the Buddha's speech to Pali, the Canon
was eventually transcribed and preserved entirely in it, while the
commentarial tradition that accompanied it (according to the
information provided by Buddhaghosa) was translated into Sinhalese and
preserved in local languages for several generations. In Sri Lanka,
Pali is thought to have entered into a period of decline ending around
the 4th or 5th century (as
Sanskrit rose in prominence, and
simultaneously, as Buddhism's adherents became a smaller portion of
the subcontinent), but ultimately survived. The work of Buddhaghosa
was largely responsible for its reemergence as an important scholarly
language in Buddhist thought. The Visuddhimagga, and the other
Buddhaghosa compiled, codified and condensed the
Sinhalese commentarial tradition that had been preserved and expanded
Sri Lanka since the 3rd century BCE.
Early western views
T. W. Rhys Davids in his book Buddhist India, and
Wilhelm Geiger in his book Pāli Literature and Language, suggested
Pali may have originated as a lingua franca or common language of
culture among people who used differing dialects in North India, used
at the time of the Buddha and employed by him. Another scholar states
that at that time it was "a refined and elegant vernacular of all
Aryan-speaking people". Modern scholarship has not arrived at a
consensus on the issue; there are a variety of conflicting theories
with supporters and detractors. After the death of the Buddha,
Pali may have evolved among Buddhists out of the language of the
Buddha as a new artificial language. R. C. Childers, who held to
the theory that
Pali was Old Magadhi, wrote: "Had Gautama never
preached, it is unlikely that Magadhese would have been distinguished
from the many other vernaculars of Hindustan, except perhaps by an
inherent grace and strength which make it a sort of Tuscan among the
According to K. R. Norman, it is likely that the viharas in
North India had separate collections of material, preserved in the
local dialect. In the early period it is likely that no degree of
translation was necessary in communicating this material to other
areas. Around the time of
Ashoka there had been more linguistic
divergence, and an attempt was made to assemble all the material. It
is possible that a language quite close to the
Pali of the canon
emerged as a result of this process as a compromise of the various
dialects in which the earliest material had been preserved, and this
language functioned as a lingua franca among Eastern Buddhists in
India from then on. Following this period, the language underwent a
small degree of Sanskritisation (i.e., MIA bamhana > brahmana,
tta > tva in some cases).
Bhikkhu Bodhi, summarizing the current state of scholarship, states
that the language is "closely related to the language (or, more
likely, the various regional dialects) that the Buddha himself spoke".
He goes on to write:
Scholars regard this language as a hybrid showing features of several
Prakrit dialects used around the third century BCE, subjected to
a partial process of Sanskritization. While the language is not
identical to what Buddha himself would have spoken, it belongs to the
same broad language family as those he might have used and originates
from the same conceptual matrix. This language thus reflects the
thought-world that the Buddha inherited from the wider Indian culture
into which he was born, so that its words capture the subtle nuances
of that thought-world.
According to A. K. Warder, the
Pali language is a Prakrit
language used in a region of Western India. Warder associates Pali
with the Indian realm (janapada) of Avanti, where the Sthavira nikāya
was centered. Following the initial split in the Buddhist
Sthavira nikāya became influential in Western and
South India while the
Mahāsāṃghika branch became influential in
Central and East India. Akira Hirakawa and Paul Groner also
Western India and the Sthavira nikāya, citing the
Saurashtran inscriptions, which are linguistically closest to the Pali
Pali died out as a literary language in mainland India in the
fourteenth century but survived elsewhere until the eighteenth.
Pali is studied mainly to gain access to Buddhist scriptures,
and is frequently chanted in a ritual context. The secular literature
Pali historical chronicles, medical texts, and inscriptions is also
of great historical importance. The great centers of
remain in the
Theravada nations of Southeast Asia: Burma, Sri Lanka,
Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. Since the 19th century, various
societies for the revival of
Pali studies in India have promoted
awareness of the language and its literature, including the Maha Bodhi
Society founded by
In Europe, the
Pali Text Society has been a major force in promoting
the study of
Pali by Western scholars since its founding in 1881.
Based in the United Kingdom, the society publishes romanized Pali
editions, along with many English translations of these sources. In
1869, the first
Pali Dictionary was published using the research of
Robert Caesar Childers, one of the founding members of the
Society. It was the first
Pali translated text in English and was
published in 1872. Childers' dictionary later received the Volney
Prize in 1876.
Pali Text Society was founded in part to compensate for the very
low level of funds allocated to
Indology in late 19th-century England
and the rest of the UK; incongruously, the citizens of the UK were not
nearly so robust in
Prakrit language studies as Germany,
Russia, and even Denmark. Even without the inspiration of colonial
holdings such as the former British occupation of
Sri Lanka and Burma,
institutions such as the
Danish Royal Library
Danish Royal Library have built up major
Pali manuscripts, and major traditions of
Virtually every word in Pāḷi has cognates in the other Middle
Indo-Aryan languages, the Prakrits. The relationship to Vedic Sanskrit
is less direct and more complicated; the Prakrits were descended from
Old Indo-Aryan vernaculars. Historically, influence between
Sanskrit has been felt in both directions. The
Sanskrit is often exaggerated by comparing it to later
Sanskrit compositions – which were written centuries after
Sanskrit ceased to be a living language, and are influenced by
developments in Middle Indic, including the direct borrowing of a
portion of the Middle Indic lexicon; whereas, a good deal of later
Pali technical terminology has been borrowed from the vocabulary of
equivalent disciplines in Sanskrit, either directly or with certain
phonological adaptations.
Pali also possesses a few loan-words from local
Pali was used (e.g. Sri Lankans adding Sinhalese words
to Pali). These usages differentiate the
Pali found in the
Suttapiṭaka from later compositions such as the
Pali commentaries on
the canon and folklore (e.g., commentaries on the Jataka tales), and
comparative study (and dating) of texts on the basis of such
loan-words is now a specialized field unto itself.
Pali was not exclusively used to convey the teachings of the Buddha,
as can be deduced from the existence of a number of secular texts,
such as books of medical science/instruction, in Pali. However,
scholarly interest in the language has been focused upon religious and
philosophical literature, because of the unique window it opens on one
phase in the development of Buddhism.
Emic views of Pali
Sanskrit was said in the Brahmanical tradition to be the
unchanging language spoken by the gods, in which each word had an
inherent significance, this view of language was not shared in the
early Buddhist tradition,[which?] in which words were only
conventional and mutable signs. This view of language naturally
extended to Pali, and may have contributed to its usage (as an
approximation or standardization of local Middle Indic dialects) in
place of Sanskrit. However, by the time of the compilation of the Pali
commentaries (4th or 5th century),
Pali was regarded as the natural
language, the root language of all beings.[who?]
Comparable to Ancient Egyptian,
Hebrew in the mystic
traditions of the West,
Pali recitations were often thought to have a
supernatural power (which could be attributed to their meaning, the
character of the reciter, or the qualities of the language itself),
and in the early strata of Buddhist literature we can already see Pali
dhāraṇīs used as charms, as, for example, against the bite of
snakes. Many people in
Theravada cultures still
believe that taking a vow in
Pali has a special significance, and, as
one example of the supernatural power assigned to chanting in the
language, the recitation of the vows of Aṅgulimāla are believed to
alleviate the pain of childbirth in Sri Lanka. In Thailand, the
chanting of a portion of the Abhidhammapiṭaka is believed to be
beneficial to the recently departed, and this ceremony routinely
occupies as much as seven working days. Interestingly, there is
nothing in the latter text that relates to this subject, and the
origins of the custom are unclear.
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering
support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead
Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see
e [e], [eː]
o [o], [oː]
Long and short vowels are only contrastive in open syllables; in
closed syllables, all vowels are always short. Short and long e and o
are in complementary distribution: the short variants occur only in
closed syllables, the long variants occur only in open syllables.
Short and long e and o are therefore not distinct phonemes.
A sound called anusvāra (Skt.; Pali: nigghahita), represented by the
letter ṁ (ISO 15919) or ṃ (ALA-LC) in romanization, and by a
raised dot in most traditional alphabets, originally marked the fact
that the preceding vowel was nasalized. That is, aṁ, iṁ and uṁ
represented [ã], [ĩ] and [ũ]. In many traditional pronunciations,
however, the anusvāra is pronounced more strongly, like the velar
nasal [ŋ], so that these sounds are pronounced instead [ãŋ], [ĩŋ]
and [ũŋ]. However pronounced, ṁ never follows a long vowel; ā, ī
and ū are converted to the corresponding short vowels when ṁ is
added to a stem ending in a long vowel, e.g. kathā + ṁ becomes
kathaṁ, not *kathāṁ, devī + ṁ becomes deviṁ, not *devīṁ.
The table below lists the consonants of Pali. In bold is the
transliteration of the letter in traditional romanization, and in
square brackets its pronunciation transcribed in the IPA.
Of the sounds listed above only the three consonants in parentheses,
ṅ, ḷ, and ḷh, are not distinct phonemes in Pali: ṅ only occurs
before velar stops, while ḷ and ḷh are allophones of single ḍ
and ḍh occurring between vowels.
Pali is a highly inflected language, in which almost every word
contains, besides the root conveying the basic meaning, one or more
affixes (usually suffixes) which modify the meaning in some way. Nouns
are inflected for gender, number, and case; verbal inflections convey
information about person, number, tense and mood.
Pali nouns inflect for three grammatical genders (masculine, feminine,
and neuter) and two numbers (singular and plural). The nouns also, in
principle, display eight cases: nominative or paccatta case, vocative,
accusative or upayoga case, instrumental or karaṇa case, dative or
sampadāna case, ablative, genitive or sāmin case, and locative or
bhumma case; however, in many instances, two or more of these cases
are identical in form; this is especially true of the genitive and
a-stems, whose uninflected stem ends in short a (/ə/), are either
masculine or neuter. The masculine and neuter forms differ only in the
nominative, vocative, and accusative cases.
Masculine (loka- "world")
Neuter (yāna- "carriage")
lokā (lokamhā, lokasmā; lokato)
yānā (yānamhā, yānasmā; yānato)
Nouns ending in ā (/aː/) are almost always feminine.
Feminine (kathā- "story")
i-stems and u-stems
i-stems and u-stems are either masculine or neuter. The masculine and
neuter forms differ only in the nominative and accusative cases. The
vocative has the same form as the nominative.
Masculine (isi- "seer")
Neuter (akkhi- "eye")
Masculine (bhikkhu- "monk")
Neuter (cakkhu- "eye")
Linguistic analysis of a
From the opening of the Dhammapada:
Manopubbaṅgamā dhammā, manoseṭṭhā manomayā;
Manasā ce paduṭṭhena, bhāsati vā karoti vā,
Tato naṁ dukkhaṁ anveti, cakkaṁ'va vahato padaṁ.
Element for element gloss:
Mano-pubbaṅ-gam-ā dhamm-ā, mano-seṭṭh-ā mano-may-ā;
Mind-before-going-m.pl.nom. dharma-m.pl.nom., mind-foremost-m.pl.nom.
Manas-ā=ce paduṭṭh-ena, bhāsa-ti=vā karo-ti=vā,
Mind-n.sg.inst.=if corrupted-n.sg.inst. speak-3.sg.pr.=either
Ta-to naṁ dukkhaṁ anv-e-ti, cakkaṁ 'va vahat-o pad-aṁ.
That-from him suffering after-go-3.sg.pr., wheel as
The three compounds in the first line literally mean:
manopubbaṅgama "whose precursor is mind", "having mind as a
fore-goer or leader"
manoseṭṭha "whose foremost member is mind", "having mind as chief"
manomaya "consisting of mind" or "made by mind"
The literal meaning is therefore: "The dharmas have mind as their
leader, mind as their chief, are made of/by mind. If [someone] either
speaks or acts with a corrupted mind, from that [cause] suffering goes
after him, as the wheel [of a cart follows] the foot of a draught
A slightly freer translation by Acharya Buddharakkhita
Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all
If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him
like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.
Indo-Aryan languages are commonly assigned to three major groups
– Old, Middle and New Indo-Aryan. The classification reflects
consecutive stages in a common linguistic development, but is not
merely a matter of chronology: Classical Sanskrit, as a codified
derivate of Vedic Sanskrit, remains mostly representative of the Old
Indo-Aryan stage, even though it continued to flourish at the same
time as the Middle Indo-Aryan languages. Conversely,
a number of the morphophonological and lexical features of the Middle
Indo-Aryan languages show that they are not direct continuations of
Ṛvedic Sanskrit, the main base of Classical Sanskrit. Instead they
descend from other dialects similar to, but in some ways more archaic
Sanskrit are very closely related and the common
Sanskrit were always easily recognized by
those in Nepal who were familiar with both. Indeed, a very large
Sanskrit word-stems are identical in form,
differing only in details of inflection.
Technical terms from
Sanskrit were converted into
Pali by a set of
conventional phonological transformations. These transformations
mimicked a subset of the phonological developments that had occurred
in Proto-Pali. Because of the prevalence of these transformations, it
is not always possible to tell whether a given
Pali word is a part of
Prakrit lexicon, or a transformed borrowing from Sanskrit. The
existence of a
Sanskrit word regularly corresponding to a
Pali word is
not always secure evidence of the
Pali etymology, since, in some
Sanskrit words were created by back-formation from
Prakrit words.[dubious – discuss]
The following phonological processes are not intended as an exhaustive
description of the historical changes which produced
Pali from its Old
Indic ancestor, but rather are a summary of the most common
phonological equations between
Sanskrit and Pali, with no claim to
Vowels and diphthongs
Sanskrit ai and au always monophthongize to
Pali e and o, respectively
Examples: maitrī → mettā, auṣadha → osadha
Sanskrit aya and ava likewise often reduce to
Pali e and o
Examples: dhārayati → dhāreti, avatāra → otāra, bhavati →
Sanskrit avi becomes
Pali e (i.e. avi → ai → e)
Example: sthavira → thera
Sanskrit ṛ appears in
Pali as a, i or u, often agreeing with the
vowel in the following syllable. ṛ also sometimes becomes u after
Examples: kṛta → kata, tṛṣṇa → taṇha, smṛti → sati,
ṛṣi → isi, dṛṣṭi → diṭṭhi, ṛddhi → iddhi, ṛju
→ uju, spṛṣṭa → phuṭṭha, vṛddha → vuddha
Sanskrit long vowels are shortened before a sequence of two following
Examples: kṣānti → khanti, rājya → rajja, īśvara → issara,
tīrṇa → tiṇṇa, pūrva → pubba
Sanskrit sibilants ś, ṣ, and s merge as
Examples: śaraṇa → saraṇa, doṣa → dosa
Sanskrit stops ḍ and ḍh become ḷ and ḷh between vowels (as
Example: cakravāḍa → cakkavāḷa, virūḍha → virūḷha
Many assimilations of one consonant to a neighboring consonant
occurred in the development of Pali, producing a large number of
geminate (double) consonants. Since aspiration of a geminate consonant
is only phonetically detectable on the last consonant of a cluster,
geminate kh, gh, ch, jh, ṭh, ḍh, th, dh, ph and bh appear as kkh,
ggh, cch, jjh, ṭṭh, ḍḍh, tth, ddh, pph and bbh, not as khkh,
When assimilation would produce a geminate consonant (or a sequence of
unaspirated stop+aspirated stop) at the beginning of a word, the
initial geminate is simplified to a single consonant.
Examples: prāṇa → pāṇa (not ppāṇa), sthavira → thera (not
tthera), dhyāna → jhāna (not jjhāna), jñāti → ñāti (not
When assimilation would produce a sequence of three consonants in the
middle of a word, geminates are simplified until there are only two
consonants in sequence.
Examples: uttrāsa → uttāsa (not utttāsa), mantra → manta (not
mantta), indra → inda (not indda), vandhya → vañjha (not
The sequence vv resulting from assimilation changes to bb
Example: sarva → savva → sabba, pravrajati → pavvajati →
pabbajati, divya → divva → dibba, nirvāṇa → nivvāṇa →
Total assimilation, where one sound becomes identical to a neighboring
sound, is of two types: progressive, where the assimilated sound
becomes identical to the following sound; and regressive, where it
becomes identical to the preceding sound.
Internal visarga assimilates to a following voiceless stop or sibilant
Examples: duḥkṛta → dukkata, duḥkha → dukkha, duḥprajña
→ duppañña, niḥkrodha (=niṣkrodha) → nikkodha, niḥpakva
(=niṣpakva) → nippakka, niḥśoka → nissoka, niḥsattva →
In a sequence of two dissimilar
Sanskrit stops, the first stop
assimilates to the second stop
Examples: vimukti → vimutti, dugdha → duddha, utpāda → uppāda,
pudgala → puggala, udghoṣa → ugghosa, adbhuta → abbhuta,
śabda → sadda
In a sequence of two dissimilar nasals, the first nasal assimilates to
the second nasal
Example: unmatta → ummatta, pradyumna → pajjunna
j assimilates to a following ñ (i.e., jñ becomes ññ)
Examples: prajñā → paññā, jñāti → ñāti
Sanskrit liquid consonants r and l assimilate to a following stop,
nasal, sibilant, or v
Examples: mārga → magga, karma → kamma, varṣa → vassa, kalpa
→ kappa, sarva → savva → sabba
r assimilates to a following l
Examples: durlabha → dullabha, nirlopa → nillopa
d sometimes assimilates to a following v, producing vv → bb
Examples: udvigna → uvvigga → ubbigga, dvādaśa → bārasa
t and d may assimilate to a following s or y when a morpheme boundary
Examples: ut+sava → ussava, ud+yāna → uyyāna
Nasals sometimes assimilate to a preceding stop (in other cases
Examples: agni → aggi, ātman → atta, prāpnoti → pappoti,
śaknoti → sakkoti
m assimilates to an initial sibilant
Examples: smarati → sarati, smṛti → sati
Nasals assimilate to a preceding stop+sibilant cluster, which then
develops in the same way as such clusters without following nasals
Examples: tīkṣṇa → tikṣa → tikkha, lakṣmī → lakṣī
Sanskrit liquid consonants r and l assimilate to a preceding stop,
nasal, sibilant, or v
Examples: prāṇa → pāṇa, grāma → gāma, śrāvaka →
sāvaka, agra → agga, indra → inda, pravrajati → pavvajati →
pabbajati, aśru → assu
y assimilates to preceding non-dental/retroflex stops or nasals
Examples: cyavati → cavati, jyotiṣ → joti, rājya → rajja,
matsya → macchya → maccha, lapsyate → lacchyate → lacchati,
abhyāgata → abbhāgata, ākhyāti → akkhāti, saṁkhyā →
saṅkhā (but also saṅkhyā), ramya → ramma
y assimilates to preceding non-initial v, producing vv → bb
Example: divya → divva → dibba, veditavya → veditavva →
veditabba, bhāvya → bhavva → bhabba
y and v assimilate to any preceding sibilant, producing ss
Examples: paśyati → passati, śyena → sena, aśva → assa,
īśvara → issara, kariṣyati → karissati, tasya → tassa,
svāmin → sāmī
v sometimes assimilates to a preceding stop
Examples: pakva → pakka, catvāri → cattāri, sattva → satta,
dhvaja → dhaja
Partial and mutual assimilation
Sanskrit sibilants before a stop assimilate to that stop, and if that
stop is not already aspirated, it becomes aspirated; e.g. śc, st,
ṣṭ and sp become cch, tth, ṭṭh and pph
Examples: paścāt → pacchā, asti → atthi, stava → thava,
śreṣṭha → seṭṭha, aṣṭa → aṭṭha, sparśa →
In sibilant-stop-liquid sequences, the liquid is assimilated to the
preceding consonant, and the cluster behaves like sibilant-stop
sequences; e.g. str and ṣṭr become tth and ṭṭh
Examples: śāstra → śasta → sattha, rāṣṭra → raṣṭa
t and p become c before s, and the sibilant assimilates to the
preceding sound as an aspirate (i.e., the sequences ts and ps become
Examples: vatsa → vaccha, apsaras → accharā
A sibilant assimilates to a preceding k as an aspirate (i.e., the
sequence kṣ becomes kkh)
Examples: bhikṣu → bhikkhu, kṣānti → khanti
Any dental or retroflex stop or nasal followed by y converts to the
corresponding palatal sound, and the y assimilates to this new
consonant, i.e. ty, thy, dy, dhy, ny become cc, cch, jj, jjh, ññ;
likewise ṇy becomes ññ. Nasals preceding a stop that becomes
palatal share this change.
Examples: tyajati → cyajati → cajati, satya → sacya → sacca,
mithyā → michyā → micchā, vidyā → vijyā → vijjā, madhya
→ majhya → majjha, anya → añya → añña, puṇya → puñya
→ puñña, vandhya → vañjhya → vañjjha → vañjha
The sequence mr becomes mb, via the epenthesis of a stop between the
nasal and liquid, followed by assimilation of the liquid to the stop
and subsequent simplification of the resulting geminate.
Examples: āmra → ambra → amba, tāmra → tamba
An epenthetic vowel is sometimes inserted between certain
consonant-sequences. As with ṛ, the vowel may be a, i, or u,
depending on the influence of a neighboring consonant or of the vowel
in the following syllable. i is often found near i, y, or palatal
consonants; u is found near u, v, or labial consonants.
Sequences of stop + nasal are sometimes separated by a or u
Example: ratna → ratana, padma → paduma (u influenced by labial m)
The sequence sn may become sin initially
Examples: snāna → sināna, sneha → sineha
i may be inserted between a consonant and l
Examples: kleśa → kilesa, glāna → gilāna, mlāyati →
milāyati, ślāghati → silāghati
An epenthetic vowel may be inserted between an initial sibilant and r
Example: śrī → sirī
The sequence ry generally becomes riy (i influenced by following y),
but is still treated as a two-consonant sequence for the purposes of
Example: ārya → arya → ariya, sūrya → surya → suriya, vīrya
→ virya → viriya
a or i is inserted between r and h
Example: arhati → arahati, garhā → garahā, barhiṣ → barihisa
There is sporadic epenthesis between other consonant sequences
Examples: caitya → cetiya (not cecca), vajra → vajira (not vajja)
Sanskrit sibilant before a nasal becomes a sequence of nasal
followed by h, i.e. ṣṇ, sn and sm become ṇh, nh, and mh
Examples: tṛṣṇa → taṇha, uṣṇīṣa → uṇhīsa, asmi
The sequence śn becomes ñh, due to assimilation of the n to the
preceding palatal sibilant
Example: praśna → praśña → pañha
The sequences hy and hv undergo metathesis
Examples: jihvā → jivhā, gṛhya → gayha, guhya → guyha
h undergoes metathesis with a following nasal
Example: gṛhṇāti → gaṇhāti
y is geminated between e and a vowel
Examples: śreyas → seyya,
Maitreya → Metteyya
Voiced aspirates such as bh and gh on rare occasions become h
Examples: bhavati → hoti, -ebhiṣ → -ehi, laghu → lahu
Dental and retroflex sounds sporadically change into one another
Examples: jñāna → ñāṇa (not ñāna), dahati → ḍahati
Pali dahati) nīḍa → nīla (not nīḷa), sthāna →
ṭhāna (not thāna), duḥkṛta → dukkaṭa (beside
There are several notable exceptions to the rules above; many of them
Prakrit words rather than borrowings from Sanskrit.
ārya → ayya (beside ariya)
guru → garu (adj.) (beside guru (n.))
puruṣa → purisa (not purusa)
vṛkṣa → rukṣa → rukkha (not vakkha)
Alphabet with diacritics
Ashoka erected a number of pillars with his edicts in at least
Prakrit languages in Brahmi script, all of which
are quite similar to Pali. Historically, the first written record of
Pali canon is believed to have been composed in Sri Lanka, based
on a prior oral tradition. As per the
Mahavamsa (the chronicle of Sri
Lanka), due to a major famine in the country Buddhist monks wrote down
Pali canon during the time of King Vattagamini in 100 BC. The
transmission of written
Pali has retained a universal system of
alphabetic values, but has expressed those values in a stunning
variety of actual scripts.
In Sri Lanka,
Pali texts were recorded in Sinhala script. Other local
scripts, most prominently Khmer, Burmese, and in modern times Thai
Mon script (Mon State, Burma) have been
used to record Pali.
Since the 19th century,
Pali has also been written in the Roman
script. An alternate scheme devised by Frans Velthuis, called the
Velthuis scheme (see § Text in ASCII) allows for typing without
diacritics using plain
ASCII methods, but is arguably less readable
than the standard IAST system, which uses diacritical marks.
Pali alphabetical order is as follows:
a ā i ī u ū e o ṃ k kh g gh ṅ c ch j jh ñ ṭ ṭh ḍ ḍh
ṇ t th d dh n p ph b bh m y r l ḷ v s h
ḷh, although a single sound, is written with ligature of ḷ and h.
Transliteration on computers
There are several fonts to use for
Pali transliteration. However,
ASCII fonts such as Leedsbit PaliTranslit, Times_Norman,
Times_CSX+, Skt Times, Vri Roman
Pali CN/CB etc., are not recommendable
since they are not compatible with one another and technically out of
date. On the contrary, fonts based on the
Unicode standard are
Unicode seems to be the future for all fonts and
also because they are easily portable to one another.
However, not all
Unicode fonts contain the necessary characters. To
properly display all the diacritic marks used for romanized
for that matter, Sanskrit), a
Unicode font must contain the following
Basic Latin: U+0000 – U+007F
Latin-1 Supplement: U+0080 – U+00FF
Latin Extended-A: U+0100 – U+017F
Latin Extended-B: U+0180 – U+024F
Latin Extended Additional: U+1E00 – U+1EFF
Unicode fonts freely available for typesetting Romanized
Pali Text Society recommends VU-Times and Gandhari
Windows and Linux Computers.
The Tibetan & Himalayan Digital Library recommends Times Ext
Roman, and provides links to several
Unicode diacritic Windows and Mac
fonts usable for typing
Pali together with ratings and installation
instructions. It also provides macros for typing diacritics in
OpenOffice and MS Office.
SIL: International provides Charis SIL and Charis SIL Compact, Doulos
SIL, Gentium, Gentium Basic, Gentium Book Basic fonts. Of them, Charis
SIL, Gentium Basic and Gentium Book Basic have all 4 styles (regular,
italic, bold, bold-italic); so can provide publication quality
Libertine Openfont Project provides the Linux Libertine font (4 serif
styles and many Opentype features) and Linux Biolinum (4 sans-serif
styles) at the Sourceforge.
Junicode (short for Junius-Unicode) is a
Unicode font for
medievalists, but it provides all diacritics for typing Pali. It has 4
styles and some Opentype features such as Old Style for numerals.
Thryomanes includes all the Roman-alphabet characters available in
Unicode along with a subset of the most commonly used Greek and
Cyrillic characters, and is available in normal, italic, bold, and
TeX User Group) provides
Latin Modern and
TeX Gyre fonts.
Each font has 4 styles, with the former finding most acceptance among
TeX users while the latter is a relatively new family. Of the
latter, each typeface in the following families has nearly 1250 glyphs
and is available in PostScript,
TeX and OpenType formats.
TeX Gyre Adventor family of sans serif fonts is based on the URW
Gothic L family. The original font,
ITC Avant Garde
ITC Avant Garde Gothic, was
designed by Herb Lubalin and Tom Carnase in 1970.
TeX Gyre Bonum family of serif fonts is based on the URW Bookman L
family. The original font, Bookman or Bookman Old Style, was designed
by Alexander Phemister in 1860.
TeX Gyre Chorus is a font based on the URW Chancery L Medium
Italic font. The original, ITC Zapf Chancery, was designed in 1979 by
TeX Gyre Cursor family of monospace serif fonts is based on the
URW Nimbus Mono L family. The original font, Courier, was designed by
Howard G. (Bud) Kettler in 1955.
TeX Gyre Heros family of sans serif fonts is based on the URW
Nimbus Sans L family. The original font, Helvetica, was designed in
1957 by Max Miedinger.
TeX Gyre Pagella family of serif fonts is based on the URW
Palladio L family. The original font, Palatino, was designed by
Hermann Zapf in the 1940s.
TeX Gyre Schola family of serif fonts is based on the URW Century
Schoolbook L family. The original font, Century Schoolbook, was
designed by Morris Fuller Benton in 1919.
TeX Gyre Termes family of serif fonts is based on the Nimbus Roman
No9 L family. The original font, Times Roman, was designed by Stanley
Morison together with Starling Burgess and Victor Lardent.
John Smith provides IndUni Opentype fonts, based upon URW++ fonts. Of
IndUni-C is Courier-lookalike;
IndUni-H is Helvetica-lookalike;
IndUni-N is New Century Schoolbook-lookalike;
IndUni-P is Palatino-lookalike;
IndUni-T is Times-lookalike;
IndUni-CMono is Courier-lookalike but monospaced;
An English Buddhist monk titled
Bhikkhu Pesala provides some Pali
OpenType fonts he has designed himself. Of them:
Acariya is a Garamond style typeface derived from Guru (regular,
italic, bold, bold italic).
Balava is a revival of Baskerville derived from Libre Baskerville
(regular, italic, bold, bold italic).
Cankama is a Gothic, Black Letter script. Regular style only.
(Carita has been discontinued.)
Garava was designed for body text with a generous x-height and
economical copyfit. It includes Petite Caps (as OpenType Features),
and Heavy styles besides the usual four styles (regular, italic, bold,
Guru is a condensed Garamond style typeface designed for economy of
copy-fit. A hundred A4 pages of text set in
Pali would be about 98
pages if set in Acariya, 95 if set in Garava or Times New Roman, but
only 90 if set in Guru.(regular, italic, bold, bold italic styles).
Hari is a hand-writing script derived from Allura by Robert E.
Leuschke.(Regular style only).
(Hattha has been discontinued)
Jivita is an original Sans Serif typeface for body text. (regular,
italic, bold, bold italic).
Kabala is a distinctive Sans Serif typeface designed for display text
or headings. Regular, italic, bold and bold italic styles.
Lekhana is a Zapf Chancery clone, a flowing script that can be used
for correspondence or body text. Regular, italic, bold and bold italic
Mahakampa is a hand-writing script derived from Great Vibes by Robert
E. Leuschke. Regular type style.
Mandala is designed for display text or headings. Regular, italic,
bold and bold italic styles.
Nacca is a hand-writing script derived from Dancing Script by Pablo
Impallari and released on Font Squirrel. Regular type style.
Odana is a calligraphic brush font suitable for headlines, titles, or
short texts where a less formal appearance is wanted. Regular style
Open Sans is a Sans Serif font suitable for body text. Ten type
Pali is a clone of Hermann Zapf's Palatino. Regular, italic, bold and
bold italic styles.
Sukhumala is derived from Sort Mills Goudy. Five type styles
Talapanna is a clone of Goudy Bertham, with decorative gothic capitals
and extra ligatures in the Private Use Area. Regular and bold styles.
(Talapatta is discontinued.)
Veluvana is another brush calligraphic font but basic Greek glyphs are
taken from Guru. Regular style only.
Verajja is derived from Bitstream Vera. Regular, italic, bold and bold
VerajjaPDA is a cut-down version of Verajja without symbols. For use
on PDA devices. Regular, italic, bold and bold italic styles.
He also provides some
Pali keyboards for Windows XP.
The font section of Alanwood's
Unicode Resources have links to several
general purpose fonts that can be used for
Pali typing if they cover
the character ranges above.
Some of the latest fonts coming with Windows 7 can also be used to
type transliterated Pali: Arial, Calibri, Cambria, Courier New,
Microsoft Sans Serif, Segoe UI, Segoe UI Light, Segoe UI Semibold,
Tahoma, and Times New Roman. And some of them have 4 styles each hence
usable in professional typesetting: Arial, Calibri and Segoe UI are
sans-serif fonts, Cambria and
Times New Roman
Times New Roman are serif fonts and
Courier New is a monospace font.
Text in ASCII
Velthuis scheme was originally developed in 1991 by Frans Velthuis
for use with his "devnag"
Devanāgarī font, designed for the TeX
typesetting system. This system of representing
Pali diacritical marks
has been used in some websites and discussion lists. However, as the
Web itself and email software slowly evolve towards the Unicode
encoding standard, this system has become almost unnecessary and
The following table compares various conventional renderings and
shortcut key assignments:
Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit
^ Nagrajji (2003) "
Pali language and the Buddhist Canonical
Literature". Agama and Tripitaka, vol. 2: Language and Literature.
^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds.
Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for
the Science of Human History.
^ Hazra, Kanai Lal. Pāli Language and Literature; a systematic survey
and historical study. D.K. Printworld Lrd., New Delhi, 1994, page 19.
^ A Dictionary of the
Pali Language By Robert Cæsar Childers
^ a b
Bhikkhu Bodhi, In the Buddha's Words. Wisdom Publications, 2005,
^ a b c Hirakawa, Akira. Groner, Paul. A History of Indian Buddhism:
From Śākyamuni to Early Mahāyāna. 2007. p. 119
^ Oberlies, Thomas (2001). Pāli: A Grammar of the Language of the
Theravāda Tipiṭaka. Indian Philology and South Asian Studies, v. 3.
Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. p. 6. ISBN 3-11-016763-8. "Pāli as a
MIA language is different from
Sanskrit not so much with regard to the
time of its origin than as to its dialectal base, since a number of
its morphonological and lexical features betray the fact that it is
not a direct continuation of Ṛgvedic Sanskrit; rather it descends
from a dialect (or a number of dialects) which was (/were), despite
many similarities, different from Ṛgvedic."
^ "If in "Sanskrit" we include the Vedic language and all dialects of
the Old Indian period, then it is true to say that all the Prakrits
are derived from Sanskrit. If on the other hand "
Sanskrit " is used
more strictly of the Panini-Patanjali language or "Classical
Sanskrit," then it is untrue to say that any
Prakrit is derived from
Sanskrit, except that S'auraseni, the Midland Prakrit, is derived from
the Old Indian dialect". Introduction to Prakrit, by Alfred C Woolner.
Baptist Mission Press 1917
^ a b c
^ Buddhist India, ch. 9 Retrieved 14 June 2010.
^ Hazra, Kanai Lal. Pāli Language and Literature; a systematic survey
and historical study. D.K. Printworld Lrd., New Delhi, 1994, page 11.
^ Hazra, Kanai Lal. Pāli Language and Literature; a systematic survey
and historical study. D.K. Printworld Lrd., New Delhi, 1994, pages
^ Hazra, Kanai Lal. Pāli Language and Literature; a systematic survey
and historical study. D.K. Printworld Lrd., New Delhi, 1994, page 29.
^ Hazra, Kanai Lal. Pāli Language and Literature; a systematic survey
and historical study. D.K. Printworld Lrd., New Delhi, 1994, page 20.
^ K. R. Norman, Pāli Literature. Otto Harrassowitz, 1983,
^ a b Warder, A. K. Indian Buddhism. 2000. p. 284
^ Negi (2000), "
Pali Language", Students' Britannica India, vol. 4
^ David Kalupahana, Nagarjuna: The Philosophy of the Middle Way. SUNY
Press, 1986, page 19. The author refers specifically to the thought of
^ Dispeller of Delusion,
Pali Text Society, volume II, pages 127f
^ a b Oberlies, Thomas (2007). "Chapter Five: Aśokan
Pāli". In Jain, Danesh; Cardona, George. The Indo-Aryan Languages.
Routledge. p. 163. ISBN 978-1-135-79711-9.
^ Inscriptions of Aśoka by Alexander Cunningham, Eugen Hultzsch.
Calcutta: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing.
See entries for "Pali" (written by
K. R. Norman of the
Society) and "India--Buddhism" in The Concise Encyclopedia of Language
and Religion, (Sawyer ed.) ISBN 0-08-043167-4
Müller, Edward (1995) [First published 1884]. Simplified Grammar of
Pali Language. Asian Educational Services.
Silva, Lily de (1994).
Pali Primer (first ed.). Vipassana Research
Institute Publications. ISBN 81-7414-014-X.
Warder, A. K. (1991). Introduction to
Pali (third ed.).
Society. ISBN 0-86013-197-1.
American National Standards Institute. (1979). American National
Standard system for the romanization of Lao, Khmer, and Pali. New
York: The Institute.
Andersen, Dines (1907). A
Pali Reader. Copenhagen: Gyldendalske
Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag. p. 310. Retrieved 29 September
Perniola, V. (1997).
Pali Grammar, Oxford, The
Pali Text Society.
Collins, Steven (2006). A
Pali Grammar for Students. Silkworm Press.
Gupta, K. M. (2006). Linguistic approach to meaning in Pali. New
Delhi: Sundeep Prakashan. ISBN 81-7574-170-8
Hazra, K. L. (1994). Pāli language and literature: a systematic
survey and historical study. Emerging perceptions in Buddhist studies,
no. 4-5. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld. ISBN 81-246-0004-X
Müller, E. (2003). The
Pali language: a simplified grammar. Trubner's
collection of simplified grammars. London: Trubner.
Russell Webb (ed.) An Analysis of the
Pali Canon, Buddhist Publication
Society, Kandy; 1975, 1991 (see http://www.bps.lk/reference.asp)
Soothill, W. E., & Hodous, L. (1937). A dictionary of Chinese
Buddhist terms: with
Sanskrit and English equivalents and a
Pali index. London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co.
Bhikkhu Nanamoli. A- Pāli-English Glossary of Buddhist technical
terms. ISBN 9552400864
Mahathera Buddhadatta (1998). Concise Pāli-English Dictionary.
Quickly find the meaning of a word, without the detailed grammatical
and contextual analysis. ISBN 8120806050
Wallis, Glenn (2011) Buddhavacana, a
Pali reader (PDF eBook).
Lynn Martineau (1998) Pāli Workbook Pāli Vocabulary from the 10-day
Vipassana Course of S.N. Goenka ISBN 1928706045
Pali edition of, the free encyclopedia
Pali in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Pali Text Society, London. The
Pali Text Society's Pali-English
dictionary. Chipstead, 1921-1925.
Pali Text Society
Reconstruction of Ancient Indian sound clusters on the basis of Pali
sounds (according to "Grammatik des Pali" by Achim Fahs)
Buddhadatta Mahāthera, A. P. (1958). Concise Pāli-English
Four Noble Truths
Noble Eightfold Path
Laos and Thailand
Mahapajapati Gotamī (aunt, adoptive mother)
Places where the Buddha stayed
Buddha in world religions
Three marks of existence
Two truths doctrine
Ten spiritual realms
Hungry Ghost realm
Three planes of existence
Vipassanā (Vipassana movement)
Seven Factors of Enlightenment
Four Right Exertions
Four stages of enlightenment
Upāsaka and Upāsikā
The ten principal disciples
Emperor Wen of Sui
Chinese Buddhist canon
Tibetan Buddhist canon
Early Buddhist schools
Basic points unifying Theravāda and Mahāyāna
Buddhism in India
Buddhism in India
Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution
Buddhism and the Roman world
Buddhism in the West
Silk Road transmission of Buddhism
Persecution of Buddhists
Banishment of Buddhist monks from Nepal
Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism
Women in Buddhism
The unanswered questions
Japanese Buddhist architecture
Korean Buddhist temples
Thai temple art and architecture
Tibetan Buddhist architecture
Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi
Om mani padme hum
Maya Devi Temple
Temple of the Tooth
East Asian religions
Old and Middle Indo-Aryan languages
Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit
Modern Indo-Aryan languages
Languages of Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan sign languages
Formerly spoken and Extinct
1a liturgical language 2a dialect of Sinhala