Hello, today we’re going to be looking at
the Pali alphabet and its pronunciation welcome back to the Pāli Studies
channel. If this is your first time here, and you want to be kept up-to-date with
basic Pali language grammar tutorials to help you learn Pali,
then why not subscribe? – and don’t forget to click the bell icon so you don’t miss
any of the posts. Okay so let’s begin! Pali is a phonetic language, meaning that
it’s spelt how it sounds – one symbol equals one sound. Originally it was just
a spoken language with no script of its own, but over time it’s taken on the
written scripts of the countries in which it was written down. So it’s come
to have many scripts. And in the West it is generally written in the Roman script. Unlike English, Indic alphabets are
listed phonetically – the vowels come first, followed by the consonants. In this
table, the last line is made up of what are called ‘semi-vowels’ and the sibilant
‘s’. Now most dictionaries including the PED place the niggahīta symbol between
the vowels and the consonants. It’s listing in dictionaries can be quite
confusing, so we’ll look at this later in the tutorial. Now anyone who follows this
channel will know just how bad I am at pronouncing words in Pāli.
I apologize now for all the mistakes that I’ve made and probably will
continue to make in this series of tutorials. I’m more interested in reading
Pāli than I am in speaking it. So in this
guide to the Pali alphabet, I’m going to use the international phonetic alphabet
standard sounds. The IPA is like a periodic table of
speech sounds. Okay so let’s begin with the vowels. Pali has eight vowel sounds
and each vowel comes in a long and a short form. The long form, as the name
suggests, been sounded for longer. And we differentiate these with a line called
the macron. This is just one of what are called diacritic marks which are used to
extend the Roman alphabet to cover the different sounds of the Pāli language.
Beware though, that before unicode fonts, long vowels were often represented in
texts by different means – most often by repeating the character. So it’s possible
you may still come across texts like this. Anyway let’s listen to the vowel
sounds:- e & o are usually included
with the long vowels as they’re pronounced long before single consonants
and at the end of words. However, even though they’re not marked as such, if
they come before a double consonant they’re sounded short:- The consonants are
usually arranged as follows:.. Now the first thing you’ll
notice is, this doesn’t follow what we in the West would consider alphabetical
order. Instead it’s arranged phonetically – by where the sounds are made in the
mouth. Each row represents a position in the mouth where the sound is made
starting with the gutturals at the back of the throat and working forward
through the palatal, the retroflex, the dentals to the labials – made with the
lips. The columns in the table are divided into: unvoiced, voiced and nasals.
Voiced just means to make a vibration, a buzz, in the vocal cords. So the sound ‘k’ is
unvoiced, whereas ‘g’ is voiced. An interesting way to tell the difference
is: if you block your ears and make a ‘k’ sound and then a ‘g’; you’ll hear the
difference as the vocal cords resonate up through the jaw bone. Both the voice
and the unvoiced sounds have an aspirated variant – this means just to
add an exhalation of air at the end, like a fricative breathy ‘hhh’… These sounds can be
quite tricky for a native English speaker as we often tend to slightly
aspirate our consonants; for instance when we say ‘key’ [Khee]. And also the aspiration
of the voiced sounds also has to be voiced – and this is quite unusual for an
English speaker. Nasals, as the word implies, involves an opening of the
passage to the nose and allowing a slight vibration in the nasal cavity. Another major difference to English is: with Pali being phonetic, every letter has
a single unique sound. And that sound largely remains the same no matter where
it appears in the word. With only a few exceptions like with the vowels ‘e’ and ‘o’
that we’ve just seen. So its important to note that the aspirates, although represented by a consonant followed by a ‘h’, this indicates a
single letter and sound. So the ‘th’ is ‘Ter’ and never ‘the’ and the ‘ph’ is ‘Per’ and never
‘fir’, as it is in English. Now I’m sure if you’ve read any guide on the Pali
language before, you’ll be familiar with the technique of using english words as
examples of letter sounds. But, in this tutorial, i’m going to do something a
little different, to add another dimension, which i think will help you.
I’ve opted for graphics from the University of Glasgow’s Seeing Speech Lab.
So let’s work through the consonant sounds.
The gutturals are formed at the back of the mouth and these are also called
Velars:- The palatal s are made with the back of the tongue touching the palate
or the roof of the mouth:- Now Pali has two types of D
and T sound the retroflex sometimes also called
cerebral and the dental. The retroflex requires the curling back of the tongue
slightly. English T & D are very close:- With the dentals the tongue is touched on
the tooth Ridge – just behind the teeth. English has no real counterpart but the
French T & D are much more dental:- And the labials, formed with the lips, make
a slight plosive sound:- Finally there are the semivowels.
These are half consonant, half vowel. And although called vowels, they’re actually
consonants:- To these is added the syllable s:-
That covers all the consonants in the Pāli alphabet; and it just leaves us with the
strange character which is the niggahīta. And you may also hear this called:
anusvāra, as that’s what it’s called in Sanskrit. It’s the one character where
different editors have used different letters to represent it. This is the
modern version: But you may come across some others.
Phonetically the niggahīta is not a separate sound. But it indicates a nasalization of the
preceding vowel – and it only joins with short vowels to form an -aṃ, -iṃ -uṃ.
These usually appear at the end of words. Occasionally however they may appear
within a word – in which case the niggahīta only precedes a consonant. And
this is where looking words up in dictionaries can become complicated.
First, if you’re searching the PED, the dictionary of the Pali Text Society, it
uses an obscure old character for the niggahīta. And if one appears before
a semi-vowel, that is how it’s listed in the dictionary. But if it appears before
one of the other consonants, it takes on the phonetic characteristics of that
group. And transforms into the nasal sound of that group. The important point
to take away from this is: that some texts may use the niggahīta-consonant combination, but the dictionary will always use the nasal character! So
keep your eyes out for that one. And if you didn’t know that, then check
out my blog. I have a whole post on how the niggahīta is handled by dictionaries.
[See links in Description] And feel free to check out my other Pāli
grammar tutorials on this channel. 🙂