|Spoken in||Cambodia, Bangladesh, India, Laos, Burma, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam|
|Language extinction||No native speakers, used as a literary and liturgical language only|
|Writing system||Brahmi script, Brāhmī-based scripts and Latin alphabet (refer to article)|
Pāli (ISO 15919/ALA-LC: Pāḷi) is a Middle Indo-Aryan language (or prakrit) of India. It is best known as the language of many of the earliest extant Buddhist scriptures, as collected in the Pāḷi Canon or Tipitaka, and as the liturgical language of Theravada Buddhism.
The word Pali itself signifies "line" or "(canonical) text", and this name for the language seems to have its origins in commentarial traditions, wherein the "Pāḷi" (in the sense of the line of original text quoted) was distinguished from the commentary or the vernacular following after it on the manuscript page. 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. To this day, there is no single, standard spelling of the term; all four 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."
Pali is a literary language of the Prakrit language family. When the canonical texts were written down in Sri Lanka in the first century BCE, Pali stood close to a living language; this is not the case for the commentaries. Despite excellent scholarship on this problem, 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 Sanskrit not so much with regard to the time of its origin as to its dialectal base, since a number of its morphological and lexical features betray the fact that it is not a direct continuation of Ṛgvedic Vedic Sanskrit; rather it descends from a dialect (or a number of dialects) which was (/were), despite many similarities, different from Ṛgvedic.
Pali was considered by early Buddhists to be linguistically similar to Old Magadhi or even a direct continuation of that language. Many 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 Mauryans. The Buddha taught in Magadha, 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 very 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 Ashokan inscriptions at Girnar in the West of India, and at Hathigumpha in the East. Similarities to the Western inscription may be misleading, because the inscription suggests that the Ashokan scribe may not have translated the material he received from Magadha into the vernacular of the people there.
According to 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).
T.W. Rhys Davids in his book Buddhist India, and Wilhelm Geiger in his book Pali Literature and Language suggested that Pali may have originated as a form of 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. 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 with any the Buddha himself would have spoken, it belongs to the same broad linguistic 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.
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. 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 Prakrits."
However Pali was ultimately supplanted in India by Sanskrit as a literary and religious language following the formulation of Classical Sanskrit by the scholar Panini. 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, Buddhism's adherents increasingly 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 commentaries that Buddhaghosa compiled codified and condensed the Sinhalese commentarial tradition that had been preserved and expanded in Sri Lanka since the 3rd Century BCE.
Today Pali is studied mainly to gain access to Buddhist scriptures, and is frequently chanted in a ritual context. The secular literature of Pali historical chronicles, medical texts, and inscriptions, is also of great historical importance. The great centers of Pali learning remain in the Theravada nations of South-East 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, perhaps most notably the Maha Bodhi Society founded by Anagarika Dhammapala.
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 Pali Text Society. It was the first Pali translated text in English and was published in 1872. Childers's Dictionary later received the Volney Prize in 1876.
The Pali Text Society was in part founded to compensate for the very low level of funds allocated to Indology in late 19th century Englandand the rest of the UK; incongruously, the citizens of the UK were not nearly so robust in Sanskrit and Prakrit language studies as Germany, Russia and even Denmark. Without the inspiration of colonial holdings such as the former British occupation of Sri Lanka and Burma, institutions such as the Danish Royal Library have built up major collections of Pali manuscripts, and major traditions of Pali studies.
Virtually every word in Pāḷi has cognates in the other Prakritic Middle Indo-Aryan languages, e.g., the Jain Prakrits. The relationship to earlier Sanskrit (e.g., Vedic language) is less direct and more complicated. Historically, influence between Pali and Sanskrit has been felt in both directions. The Pali language's resemblance to 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.
Post-canonical Pali also possesses a few loan-words from local languages where 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., the stories of the Jātaka commentaries), 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.
Although Sanskrit was said, in 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, in which words were only conventional and mutable signs. Neither the Buddha nor his early followers shared the brahmans' reverence for the Vedic language or its sacred texts. 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.
Comparable to Ancient Egyptian, Latin or 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, e.g. 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.
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With regard to its phonology, R.C. Childers compared Pali to Italian: "Like Italian, Pali is at once flowing and sonorous: it is a characteristic of both languages that nearly every word ends in a vowel, and that all harsh conjunctions are softened down by assimilation, elision, or crasis, while on the other hand both lend themselves easily to the expression of sublime and vigorous thought."
|Mid||e [e], [eː]||a [ɐ]||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.
|Stop||Nasal||m [m]||n [n̪]||ṇ [ɳ]||ñ [ɲ]||(ṅ [ŋ])|
|voiceless||unaspirated||p [p]||t [t̪]||ṭ [ʈ]||c [tʃ]||k [k]|
|aspirated||ph [pʰ]||th [t̪ʰ]||ṭh [ʈʰ]||ch[tʃʰ]||kh [kʰ]|
|voiced||unaspirated||b [b]||d [d̪]||ḍ [ɖ]||j [dʒ]||g [ɡ]|
|aspirated||bh [bʱ]||dh [d̪ʱ]||ḍh [ɖʱ]||jh [dʒʱ]||gh [ɡʱ]|
|Fricative||s [s]||h [h]|
|Approximant||unaspirated||v [ʋ]||l [l]||r [ɻ]||(ḷ [ɭ])||y [j]|
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 and ḷ, and ḷh are allophones of single ḍ, and ḍh 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, 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 dative cases.
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")|
|Ablative||lokā (lokamhā, lokasmā; lokato)||yānā (yānamhā, yānasmā; yānato)|
|Dative||lokassa (lokāya)||lokānaṁ||yānassa (yānāya)||yānānaṁ|
|Locative||loke (lokasmiṁ)||lokesu||yāne (yānasmiṁ)||yānesu|
Nouns ending in ā (/aː/) are almost always feminine.
|Feminine (kathā- "story")|
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- "fire")|
|Nominative||isi||isayo, isī||akkhi, akkhiṁ||akkhī, akkhīni|
|Instrumental||isinā||isihi, isīhi||akkhinā||akkhihi, akkhīhi|
|Ablative||isinā, isito||akkhinā, akkhito|
|Dative||isino||isinaṁ, isīnaṁ||akkhino||akkhinaṁ, akkhīnaṁ|
|Genitive||isissa, isino||akkhissa, akkhino|
|Locative||isismiṁ||isisu, isīsu||akkhismiṁ||akkhisu, akkhīsu|
|Masculine (bhikkhu- "monk")||Neuter (cakkhu- "eye")|
|Nominative||bhikkhu||bhikkhavo, bhikkhū||cakkhu, cakkhuṁ||cakkhūni|
|Genitive||bhikkhussa, bhikkhuno||bhikkhūnaṁ, bhikkhunnaṁ||cakkhussa, cakkhuno||cakkhūnaṁ, cakkhunnaṁ|
Element for element gloss
The three compounds in the first line literally mean:
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 animal."
A slightly freer translation by Acharya Buddharakkhita
The most archaic of the Middle Indo-Aryan languages are the inscriptional Aśokan Prakrit on the one hand and Pāli and Ardhamāgadhī on the other, both literary languages.
The Indo-Aryan languages are commonly assigned to three major groups - Old, Middle and New Indo-Aryan -, a linguistic and not strictly chronological classification as the MIA languages ar not younger than ('Classical') Sanskrit. And a number of their morphophonological and lexical features betray the fact that they are not direct continuations of Ṛgvedic Sanskrit, the main base of 'Classical' Sanskrit; rather they descend from dialects which, despite many similarities, were different from Ṛgvedic and in some regards even more archaic.
MIA languages, though individually distinct, share features of phonology and morphology which characterize them as parallel descendants of Old Indo-Aryan. Various sound changes are typical of the MIA phonology:
(1) The vocalic liquids 'ṛ' and 'ḷ' are replaced by 'a', 'i' or 'u'; (2) the diptongs 'ai' and 'au' are monophthongized to 'e' and 'o'; (3) long vowels before two or more consonants are shortened; (4) the three sibilants of OIA are reduced to one, either 'ś' or 's'; (5) the often complex consonant clusters of OIA are reduced to more readily pronounceable forms, either by assimilation or by splitting; (6) single intervocalic stops are progressively weakened; (7) dentals are palatalized by a following '-y-'; (8) all final consonants except '-ṃ' are dropped unless they are retained in 'sandhi' junctions.
The most conspicuous features of the morphological system of these languages are: loss of the dual; thematicization of consonantal stems; merger of the f. 'i-/u-' and 'ī-/ū-' in one 'ī-/ū-' inflexion, elimination of the dative, whose functions are taken over by the genitive, simultaneous use of different case-endings in one paradigm; employment of 'mahyaṃ' and 'tubhyaṃ' as genitives and 'me' and 'te' as instrumentals; gradual disappearance of the middle voice; coexistence of historical and new verbal forms based on the present stem; and use of active endings for the passive. In the vocabulary, the MIA languages are mostly dependent on Old Indo-Aryan, with addition of a few so-called 'deśī' words of (often) uncertain origin.
Although Pali cannot be considered a direct descendant of either Classical Sanskrit or of the older Vedic dialect, the languages are obviously very closely related and the common characteristics of Pali and Sanskrit were always easily recognized by those in India who were familiar with both. Indeed, a very large proportion of Pali and Sanskrit word-stems are identical in form, differing only in details of inflection.
The connections were sufficiently well-known that technical terms from Sanskrit were easily 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 the old 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 cases, artificial Sanskrit words were created by back-formation from Prakrit words.
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 completeness.
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.
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.
There are several notable exceptions to the rules above; many of them are common Prakrit words rather than borrowings from Sanskrit.
King Ashoka erected a number of pillars with his edicts in at least three regional prakrits in Brahmi script, all of which are quite similar to Pali. Historically, the first written record of the 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 the 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 (since 1893), Devanāgarī and Mongolian 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 allows for typing without diacritics using plain ASCII methods, but is arguably less readable than the standard Rhys Davids system, which uses diacritical marks.
The Pali alphabetical order is as follows:
ḷh, although a single sound, is written with ligature of ḷ and h.
There are several fonts to use for Pali transliteration. However, older ASCII fonts such as Leedsbit PaliTranslit, Times_Norman, Times_CSX+, Skt Times, Vri RomanPali 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 recommended because 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 Pali (or for that matter, Sanskrit), a Unicode font must contain the following character ranges:
Some Unicode fonts freely available for typesetting Romanized Pali are as follows:
The 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 not necessary and obsolete.
The following table compares various conventional renderings and shortcut key assignments:
|character||ASCII rendering||character name||Unicode number||key combination||HTML code|
Pali is an old language. It used to be spoken in India, and is similar to Sanskrit. Pali is used in religious services by Theravada Buddhists. The Theravada holy texts, called the Pali Canon, are written in Pali. Pali is usually called a dead language. Bengali orignates from the Pali