Re[2]: [Pali] Accent in Pali


>Stress/emphasis - where it is placed in Pali words?

In the old grammars rules governing stress are only given for verse, not
for prose. The main source is the Vuttodaya by San.gharakkhita, but the
rules are too long for me to summarize in an e-mail. I suggest that you
consult one of the following:

Vuttodaya, A Study of Pali Metre. R. Siddharatha. Calcutta 1929 (there is
also a very cheap reprint by Sri Satguru Publications, New Delhi, 1981).

Pali Metre. A.K. Warder (PTS 1967)

If you read Russian then look out for a copy of "Yazyk Pali" by Tatiana Y.
Elizarenkova & Vladimir N. Toporov (USSR Academy of Sciences, Moscow 1976).
Its chapters on phonemics and versification cover about the same ground as
Warder's book for a fraction of the cost.

As for the accent in prose passages, here are the views of two modern scholars:

"Regarding accent it is difficult to state anything definite about its
phonological significance on the basis of surviving Pali texts because they
are not written in scripts that show accents. We can only confine ourselves
to informed hypotheses established chiefly on diachronic data. On this
basis Pali can reasonably be viewed as having lost the tonal system that
was characteristic of Old Indian, but retaining the original placing of the
accent. This (along with the expiratory character of Pali stress) is often
indicated by changes in the vocalism of the unstressed (from the point of
view of Old Indian) syllables in Pali."
(Yazyk Pali, Elizarenkova & Toporov)

"Nothing has been handed down to us about the nature of the Pali accent. It
is, however, improbable, that the ancient Indian accent was still in force.
It is more likely that, as Jakobi has suggested for Prakrit, the Sanskritic
accent was the rule in Pali. This is suggested by the change in vocalism in
Pali, such as the weakening of a vowel after the accented syllable (in the
Skt form) or its strengthening in the main accented syllable."
(Pali Grammar, Wilhelm Geiger)

If Geiger is correct that "the Sanskritic accent was the rule in Pali",
then stress should be placed on:

1) Long penultimates:

2) Ante-penultimates (whether long or short) followed by a short syllable:

3) The fourth syllable from the end (whether long or short) when two short
syllables follow:

Of course there are many exceptions to these rules, so to get the full
picture you would need to consult a Sanskrit grammar or one of the online
Sanskrit courses.

As for the modern pronunciation of Pali (i.e. by Thai, Sinhalese and
Burmese scholars when reading a Pali passage) there isn't any
universally accepted convention governing stress. The Sinhalese, so I'm
told, place the stress according to the same rules that govern Sanskrit, as
I have given them above.

Thais, on the other hand, when reading a Pali text will intone the words
according to the same tonal rules that govern the Thai language, but place
the stress wherever they feel like it. But when chanting Pali, both tone
and stress will depend on which style of chanting they are following; there
are several of them in use. As for the Burmese, I've no idea what they do.

Best wishes,



RE: Re[2]: [Pali] Accent in Pali

Dear All,

Here comes another non-expert to share what he learnt from others and thought
out himself.

1. The niggahita (overdot/underdot m)
This something that I've given quite some thought about. I was at first quite
puzzled as to the way the Sri Lankans render it. There's absolutely no
difference in pronunciation between the overdot/underdot m and the overdot n.
They both sound like 'ng' as in 'sing'. The Burmese on the other hand pronounces
it just as 'm'.

Now this doesn't make sense to me. As in the way languages evolve, the spoken
word comes before the written. So, if "m and "n (or "m and m) are pronounced the
same, how did one sound split into two characters?

A couple of years ago, I have the good chance of meeting a Burmese monk studying
in India. Upon my asking, he told me that it is pronounced as a nasalized m.
Like .n, it's nasalized, but the lips are closed at the end.

It seemed very reasonable to me. Furthermore, questions that I have about the
peculiarity of sandhis involving the niggahita begin to fall into place. I'll
not illustrate them. Rather, I'd like to invite members of the group to take
this as a hypothesis and test it in your reading of the Pali texts, bearing in
mind always that Pali was more of a spoken language.

A related issue is whether the niggahita is better romanized as an overdot or
underdot m. Considering that it is nasalised and not retroflexed (like .t, .d,
.n), I personally prefer the dot on top for the sake of consistency.

2. Vocal emphasis
I do not know how the emphasis should be done technically. However, having
chanted verses with my teacher, keeping what should be chanted long long, and
short short, the idea of how to put the stresses at the right syllables seems to
fall into place by itself. It's easier to get a feel of it through chanting
verses, whereby the words are specially arranged so that there's a particular
pattern as to the long and short syllables, producing a consistent rhythm
throughout the verse. (A side-effect of such a special arrangement is that
poetic license is liberally used, making Pali verses hard to understand and

3. Pali Pronunciation
There's obviously such a thing as long and short syllables. E.g.:
bala means strength; power; force
baala means young in years; ignorant; foolish; child; fool.
baalaa means girl.

Another example: vata & vatta, which are two very different words.

For dukkha, you could say that the 'k' sound occurs twice, or that there’s a
pause between the two 'k's. So, it's pronounced as duk-kha, as not doo-kha as I
often here from native English-speakers.
Many native English-speakers also say Boo-dha. Any Sri Lankan can tell you
that's wrong, and that the right way to pronounce it is Bud-dha.

While the Buddha must have known that the teaching would move to different
cultures, it wouldn't make sense for him to modify current speech suit
everybody, everywhere, then and now. The people then would have trouble
understanding him.

It's common for people of different cultures have difficulty producing certain
sounds of a foreign language. What may be difficult for someone to pronounce may
not be so with another. Many Chinese learning English as a foreign language have
a tough time trying to pronounce "the" correctly, simply because the "th" sound
is not within their vocal scheme.

At 04:13 AM 11-06-02, Andy wrote:
>a) What was the nationality of the person who created romanized Pali?

I think they were English. They later on established the Pali Texts Society.

>b) What year did that person create it?

Probably in the 19th century.

>c) What form of English (British, American, India) did they know?



Ven Kumâra