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Introduction to Pali

The Pali Alphabet

a ā i ī u ū e o k kh g gh c ch j jh ñ ṭ ṭh ḍ ḍh ṇ t th d dh n p ph b bh m y r l ' v s h

Place of articulation (ṭhāna)

Manner of articulation (payatana)

Consonants (vyañjana)

Vowels (sara)

Pure Nasal (niggahīta) (nasal only, i.e. no release in the mouth, avivaṭena mukhena)

Stops (phuṭṭha or vagga)

Semi-vowel (īsaka phuṭṭha) (voiced)

Sibilant (sakāra) (voiceless)

Short (rassa)

Long (dīgha)

Compound (asamāna)

voiceless (aghosa) non-aspirate (sithila)

voiceless aspirate (dhanita)

voiced (ghosavant) non-aspirate

voiced aspirate 

voiced nasal (nāsika)

Gutturals (kaṇṭhaja)

k

kh

g

gh

J

h

 

a

A

e

 

 

 

 

 o

G
M

Palatals (tāluja)

c

ch

j

jh

Y

y

 

i

I

Cerebrals (muddhaja)

T

Th

D

Dh

N

r/L
 Lh
L

     

Dentals (dantaja)

t

th

d

dh

n

l

s

   

Labials (oṭṭhaja)

p

ph

b

bh

m

v

 

u

U

#1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

0

The following is from the Introduction to Warder[*]:

The Alphabet

Pali (Pāli) is written in a number of scripts derived from the ancient Indian Brāhmī character, and in the romanized script used [on this website]. The Indian script was a phonetic one based on an approximately phonemic analysis of the language, one letter (akkhara) being assigned to each significantly distinct sound (vaṇṇa). The derivative scripts preserve this characteristic, and the roman alphabet likewise has been adapted and enlarged so that one roman letter is assigned to each Indian letter (counting the aspirates kh, etc., written as digraphs, as single letters). The ancient Indian grammarians classified the letters, or rather the sounds they represent, as shown in the table [above].

Pronunciation

roughly as in English except: --

the aspirate consonants are accompanied by a strong breath-pulse from the chest, as when uttering English consonants very emphatically (e.g. "tush!" -th-, "pish!" = ph-, etc.),

the non-aspirate consonants are accompanied by a much weaker breath-pulse than any English consonants,

c is like ch in "choose" (so is ch, but with strong breath-pulse), except that the middle of the tongue (jivhāmajjha) only, not the tip, touches the palate (position as in English g),

the cerebrals are pronounced withthe tip of the tongue rather further begind the teeth than in the English t and d, giving a somewhat hollow soound (this is the most characteristic sound of Indian languages),

the dentals are pronounced with the tip of the tongue (jivhagga) touching the very tips ofthe teeth (position as in English th, but  of course with plosive, not fricative, manner of articulation),

of the three cerebral semivowels r is everywhere a clear consonant r as in "ram", "burrow"; ' and 'h (historically, phonetic substitutes for and ḍḥ when isolated between vowels) are laterals like l but in cerebral instead of dental position, respectively unaspirate and aspirate,

v may be somewhat similar to English v when standing alone (as initial or between vowels), but . . .like English w when combined with another consonant; many speakers of Pali pronounce v always as English w (i.e. as a pure labial),

s is never voiced (there are no z sounds in Pali),

a is like English u in "hut", "utter",

ā is like English a in " arn", "aunt",

i is like English i in "bit", "it",

ī is like English ee in "beet", "tree",

u is like English u in "put" and oo in "foot",

ū is like English u in "brute" and oo in "boot",

e is like English a in "bake", "ache" (but sometimes when followed by a double consonant and therefore short it tends towards English e in "bed", "eddy"),

o is like English o in "note", "ode" (or, before a double consonant, more like o in "not", "odd"),

unlike the English vowels, all Pali vowels are free from diphthongalization (English "sago" tends towards what might in Pali be written seigou),

The pure nasal is the humming sound produced when the mouth is closed but air escapes through the nose with voicing (vibration of the vocal chords), it is m without release (consequently without place of articulation except the nose).

The distinction of quantity (short and long vowels or syllables) is very important in Pali, but distinctions of stress are insignificant. A syllable is long if its vowel is long or if the vowel, though short, is followed by the pure nasal or by two or more consonants. A long syllable is exactly equal to two short syllables. (The total length of a long syllable being constant, a double consonant tends to compress and shorten a long vowel preceding it, and itself to be shortened by the long vowel.) Double consonants are very frequent in Pali and must be strictly pronounced as long consonants, thus nn is like English nn in "unnecessary".


Related Links

Omniglot.com
http://www.omniglot.com/writing/brahmi.htm

DhammaTalk: Brahmi
The First Word

See also: Indo-European Languages
and
Translation Bias

The Chapters from Rhys Davids: Buddhist India, that deal with language and literature:
Writing -- The Beginnings
Writing -- Its Development
Language and Literature -- General View
Language and Literature -- The Pali Books

For information on ancient scripts:
http://www.ancientscripts.com

References:

Introduction to Pali, A.K. Warder, The Pali Text Society, Oxford

 


 

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