Pali pronunciation

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Pali pronunciation

Postby David N. Snyder » Tue May 11, 2010 12:00 am

As suggested by some members here, this is a place to discuss just the Pali pronunciation and the different diacritics used. Often, different translators will use different diacritics to show the same sound. So we can post different versions of Pali pronunciation guides here too.

This one is from ânandajoti Bhikkhu :

The Alphabet:
Vowels:
a
à
i
ã
u
å
e
o

Pure nasal:

ü

Consonants:

ka
kha
ga
gha
ïa
ca
cha
ja
jha
ÿa
ña
ñha
óa
óha
õa
ta
tha
da
dha
na
pa
pha
ba
bha
ma

Semi vowels, sibilant, and aspirate:

ya
ra
la
ëa
va
sa
ha

This is the basic pattern of all the Indian alphabets, and as can be seen, they are arranged on a very rational basis. First come the vowels (discussed below), followed by the pure nasal. Next come the definite consonants with their corresponding nasal sounds. These are organised according to their place of articulation, beginning with the gutturals pronounced at the back of the mouth, and ending with those articulated on the lips. Then come the indefinite consonants. There are five main difficulties for those unfamiliar with the Indian languages, which will be dealt with here.

Unlike English, for instance, the vowel system in Pàli is very precise, and the vowels are either short or long, with the latter being exactly twice as long as the former. It is important to distinguish the lengths of the vowels correctly, as a, for example, is a negative prefix; but à is an intensifier (ananda means unhappy; ànanda means very happy). As a guide for the English reader:

a as in another

à as in art

i as in ink

ã as in eel

u as in under

å as in prudent

e as in age (but before a conjunct consonant as in end)

o as in own (but before a conjunct consonant as in orange)

Only one letter is used to represent the sounds e & o, which are normally pronounced long as ¹, & º. Before a conjunct they are normally pronounced short as Õ, & Ö, although it appears to be the case that when these vowels appear in sandhi before a double consonant, they retain their natural length, and should be pronounced as such, so that in jaràdhammo 'mhi, we should read jaràdhammº 'mhi.

The second and fourth letters in the consonant section of the alphabet (kha gha cha jha etc.), are digraphs representing the aspirate sound of the preceding consonant (ka ga ca ja etc.). They are pronounced as the latter, but with a strong breath pulse. Again, these must be distinguished (kamati, for example, is not khamati). Note that simple ca is pronounced as in change, cha is the same with a stronger breath pulse.

In Pàli ña ñha óa & óha are pronounced with the tongue behind the dental ridge, giving a characteristic hollow sound. The sounds ta tha da & dha are pronounced with the tip of the tongue on the teeth. In English ta & da etc. are about halfway between the two, so move the tongue back for the first group, and forward for the second. Note that tha is never pronounced as in they or their, but is the aspirate of ta.

The nasal sounds are all distinguished according to their place of articulation. This in practice causes few problems when the nasal is in conjunction with one of its corresponding consonants. But some of them (ÿa õa na & ma) occur by themselves also, so again they must be recognised and pronounced according to their correct position. The sound of each can be found by pronouncing them before a member of their group, e.g. first ï as in ink. The pronunciation of ÿa is as in canyon, or the Spanish word seÿor. The letter ü represents the pure nasal which is sounded when the air escapes through the nose only.

Double consonants must be clearly articulated as two sounds, not merged into one, as is the tendency in European languages. When there is a double consonant it may help to imagine a hyphen between the two letters and pronounce accordingly. Therefore sut-taü, not sutaü (or såtaü); bhik-khu, not bhikhu (or bhãkhu) etc.

To get a feel for the pronunciation and rhythm of the language it is strongly advised that beginners join in group chanting with people who are experienced in the language until they are able to manage the correct pronunciation by themselves. This will also help in familiarising students with certain basic texts.

Below is a guide to the correct pronunciation of the language, summarising the points discussed above, together with some further information regarding articulation.

a is short as in another, academic

à is long as in art, father

i is short as in ink, pin

ã is long as in eel, seal

u is short as in utter, under

å is long as in prudent, do

e is long in open syllables as in age, but before a conjunct consonant it is short as in end

o is long in open syllables as in own, but before a conjunct consonant it is short as in orange

ü is the pure nasal sounded through the nose

k as in cat, keen

kh somewhat as in blackheath

g as in gadfly, gate

gh somewhat as in log house

ï as in bank

c as in change, church

ch somewhat as in witch hazel

j as in jet, jaw

jh somewhat as in sledge hammer

ÿ as in canyon, seÿor

The following sounds as noted but with the tongue drawn back, thereby producing a hollow sound:

ñ as in tap, tick

ñh somewhat as in ant hill (never as in they)

ó as in did, dug

óh somewhat as in red hot

õ as in know

The following sounds as noted but with the tongue touching the tip of the teeth:

t as in tub, ten

th somewhat as in cat house

d as in den, dig

dh somewhat as in mad house

n as in nip, nose

p as in pat, pinch

ph somewhat as in top hat (never as in photo)

b as in back, big

bh somewhat as in abhorrence

m as in men, mice

y as in yes, year

r as in red, but with a stronger trill

l as in lead, lend

ë as before, but with the tongue drawn back

v at the beginning of a word, as in van, vane, elsewhere it more closely resembles wan, wane

s as in say, send

h as in hat, height
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Re: Pali pronunciation

Postby David N. Snyder » Tue May 11, 2010 12:01 am

The Pali alphabet is in this order:

a ā i ī u ū e o ṁ 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
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Re: Pali pronunciation

Postby David N. Snyder » Tue May 11, 2010 12:02 am

Here is another Pali pronunciation guide:

Pali is a phonetic language. As such each letter has its own characteristic sound.

a is pronounced like u in but
aa is pronounced like a in art
i is pronounced like i in pin
ii is pronounced like i in machine
u is pronounced like u in put
uu is pronounced like u in rule
e is pronounced like e in ten
ee is pronounced like a in fate
o is pronounced like o in hot
oo is pronounced like o in note
k is pronounced like k in key
g is pronounced like g in get
`n is pronounced like ng in ring
c is pronounced like ch in rich
j is pronounced like j in jug
~n is pronounced like gn in signor
.t is pronounced like t in not
.d is pronounced like d in hid
.n is pronounced like n in hint
p is pronounced like p in lip
b is pronounced like b in rib
m is pronounced like m in him
y is pronounced like y in yard
r is pronounced like r in rat
l is pronounced like l in sell
v is pronounced like v in vile
s is pronounced like s in sit
h is pronounced like h in hut
.l is pronounced like l in felt
.m is pronounced like ng in sing

The vowels e and o are always long, except when followed by a double consonant; e.g. ettha, o.t.tha.

The fifth consonant of each group is called a nasal.

There is no difference between the pronunciation of `n and .m. The former never stands at the end, but is always followed by a consonant of its group.

The dentals t and d are pronounced with the tip of the tongue placed against the front upper teeth.

The aspirates kh, gh, .th, .dh, th, dh, ph, bh, are pronounced with h sound immediately following; e.g., in blockhead, pighead, cat-head, log-head, etc., where the h in each is combined with the preceding consonant in pronunciation.
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Re: Pali pronunciation

Postby David N. Snyder » Tue May 11, 2010 12:10 am

Here is a good one from Dhamma Wheel member Bhikkhu Pesala with audio sound:

http://www.aimwell.org/Help/Pali/pali.html
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Re: Pali pronunciation

Postby David N. Snyder » Tue May 11, 2010 12:51 am

The following pronunciation guide may be one of the best ones. It is from K. Sri Dhammananda and shows what seems to be the most commonly used diacritics:

Pronunciation of the vowels:
a is like u in hut
ā is like a in father
i is like i in pin
Ī is like ee in beet
u is like u in pull
ū is like oo in pool
e is like a in bake
o is like o in hole

Pronunciation of the consonants:
k is like k in king
g is like g in gone
n is like ng in sing
c is like ch in church
j is like j in joy
ñ is like ny in canyon
ṭ is like t in top
t is like t in thigh
d is like th in the
n is like n in name
ḍ is like d in dog
ṇ is like n in not
p is like p in pot
b is like b in bat
m is like m in mother
y is like y in yes
r is like r in run
l is like l in long
v is like v in vine
s is like s in sun
h is like h in hot

The Pali alphabet is made up of forty-one letters. These are
divided into eight vowels, thirty-two consonants, and one pure
nasal sound called ‘niggahita’. The letters are classified into the
categories shown by the following:
8 vowels: a ā i ī u ū e o
5 gutturals: k kh g gh ṅ
5 palatals: c ch j jh ñ
5 cerebrals: t th d dh n
5 dentals: ṭ ṭh ḍ ḍh ṇ
5 labials: p ph b bh m
5 semi-vowels: y r ḷ l v
1 sibilant: s
1 spirant: h
1 pure nasal: ṃ
Among the five classes of mutes, the gutturals are formed in the
throat, the palatals with the tongue pressed against the front
palate, the cerebrals with the tip of the tongue in contact with the
back of the palate, the dentals with the tip of the tongue against
the teeth, and the labials with the lips. Among the semi-vowels, ḷ
is cerebral and l is dental. Since a distinctive cerebral sound is not
found in English, the pronunciation of the dental only is given
above for those letters coming in both forms. The cerebral
counterparts should be spoken with a similar sound, but uttered
with the tongue placed against the palate rather than the teeth.
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Re: Pali pronunciation

Postby Paññāsikhara » Tue May 11, 2010 2:25 am

It may help to use Unicode fonts. :)
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Re: Pali pronunciation

Postby David N. Snyder » Tue May 11, 2010 2:38 am

Paññāsikhara wrote:It may help to use Unicode fonts. :)


Good idea. :)

Now, how do you do it? :tongue:

Below is 'supposed' to be the t with the dot underneath, but as you can see only the code is showing, which of course is wrong.

[HTML]
ṭ
[/HTML]

EDIT: I think I know the problem. I have Pali fonts downloaded, but I may not have this browser set-up for unicode. I'll check with my tech expert later.
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Re: Pali pronunciation

Postby mikenz66 » Tue May 11, 2010 8:48 am

Paññāsikhara wrote:It may help to use Unicode fonts. :)

I agree. I don't want to sound negative, but almost every post so far in this thread either has the diacriticals seriously messed up or is using, without explanation, a "plain text" rendering e.g. using ~n to represent ñ, etc. See http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... tml#coping

Using the Velthuis scheme described there one could write Pa~n~naasikhara to represent Paññāsikhara. :anjali:

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Re: Pali pronunciation

Postby David N. Snyder » Tue May 11, 2010 5:08 pm

Post #3 above used the diacritics before or after the letter / character. I agree, I don't like it that way, but for some it might be a little easier for them to write that way. In the past I have been just copying and pasting to show the correct characters and diacritics. But now I have unicode set-up on my browser and I think this will be a more accurate way to write in Pali. Here is my first test using unicode:


Ñ
ñ
Ā
ā
Ī
ī
Ś
ś
Ū
ū















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Re: Pali pronunciation

Postby mikenz66 » Tue May 11, 2010 8:44 pm

Hi David,

That's getting better, though I guess it's just a test of putting in diacriticals since you have things like Ś and ś that don't exist in Pali.

From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pali_langu ... diacritics
The Pali alphabetical order is as follows:
a ā i ī u ū e o ṁ 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.

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Re: Pali pronunciation

Postby Paññāsikhara » Wed May 12, 2010 2:16 am

Thanks, looks a bit more like it.
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Re: Pali pronunciation

Postby David N. Snyder » Wed May 12, 2010 3:03 am

Thanks Ven. and Mike for the unicode suggestion. I also went back and made a few corrections to the guide from K. Sri Dhammananda post above to show the correct characters.

It's amazing how when you copy a character and then paste it, the display comes out different sometimes. That is why I now see unicode is the only way to go.
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Re: Pali pronunciation

Postby Paññāsikhara » Wed May 12, 2010 9:11 am

David N. Snyder wrote:The Pali alphabet is in this order:

A, Ā, I, Ī, U, Ū, E, O, K, Kh, G, Gh, C, Ch, J, Jh, Ñ, Ṭ, Ḍ, T, Th, D, Dh, N, P, Ph, B, Bh, M, Y, R, L, V, S, H


I think that "Ṭh" and "Ḍh" may need to be added after "Ṭ" and "Ḍ" respectively, no?
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Re: Pali pronunciation

Postby David N. Snyder » Wed May 12, 2010 2:40 pm

Paññāsikhara wrote:I think that "Ṭh" and "Ḍh" may need to be added after "Ṭ" and "Ḍ" respectively, no?


You are right. Here is the correct order:

a ā i ī u ū e o ṁ 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


(I also edited the other post above on the alphabet.)
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Re: Pali pronunciation

Postby octathlon » Sat Aug 21, 2010 2:47 am

Are there any rules for which syllable of a Pali word is stressed? For example using words I've heard pronounced, "vipassana" is 3rd to last syllable, but gacchami is 2nd to last.
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Re: Pali pronunciation

Postby hamsa » Wed Nov 17, 2010 4:48 pm

Because the second last is long (gacchāmi).
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Proper Pronunciation

Postby Tranquility Base » Sat Dec 25, 2010 1:25 pm

good morning everyone,
Could someone please point me in the right direction? I would like to know where I can find a guide as to the proper pronunciation of the East Indian language that I am confronted by when reading through books on the Buddha. I have come to realize the 'h' is silent, but beyond that, am a little lost. thank you in advance,
Nichole
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Re: Proper Pronunciation

Postby cooran » Sat Dec 25, 2010 3:02 pm

Hello , all,

Something to start with:

Pali Course as audio files
viewtopic.php?f=23&t=4028

Pali • The Pali Collective :: Mailing List
(Resources in their Files Section)
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Pali/

A Guide to Learning the Pali Language
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... gpali.html

with metta
Chris
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---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---
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Re: Proper Pronunciation

Postby Tranquility Base » Sat Dec 25, 2010 3:07 pm

Thank you very much Chris. I'm going to go through those links right now. :)
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Re: Proper Pronunciation

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Dec 25, 2010 7:36 pm

Welcome Tranquillity Base,

I'm not clear exactly what level of detail you are asking for.

If you want a quick guide on pronunciation to get started then the introduction to various chanting books is suitable. For example:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... #pronounce

Regarding the "h", it is common in transliterating Asian languages with Roman script that an "h" denotes aspiration, rather than the "th" in English. So "Thai" sounds something like "Tie", and not like "Thigh".

There are some subtleties, but apart from the use of "h" to denote an aspirated consonants, I think the following are the most likely to confuse an English speaker:
e as in they
ṃ & ṅ as ng
ñ as in cañon

Note, that the pronunciation of Pali does amongst Theravada countries, so if you listen to Sri Lankans, Burmese, and Thai chanting you'll hear some differences, due to the sounds available in their language. Thais will always pronounce "v" as "w", for example.

:anjali:
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