A Course in the Pali Language
Taught by Bhikkhu Bodhi
Pali is the language used to preserve the Buddhist canon of the Theravada Buddhist tradition, which is regarded as the oldest complete collection of Buddhist texts surviving in an Indian language. Pali is closely related to Sanskrit, but its grammar and structure are simpler. Traditional Theravadins regard Pali as the language spoken by the Buddha himself, but in the opinion of leading linguistic scholars, Pali was probably a synthetic language created from several vernaculars to make the Buddhist texts comprehensible to Buddhist monks living in different parts of northern India. It is rooted in the Prakrits, the vernacular languages, used in northern India during the Middle period of Indian linguistic evolution. As Theravada Buddhism spread to other parts of southern Asia, the use of Pali as the language of the texts spread along with it, and thus Pali became a sacred language in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Pali has been used almost exclusively for Buddhist teachings, although many religious and literary works related to Buddhism were written in Pali at a time when it was already forgotten in India.
This course is designed to help you to learn the basics of Pali grammar and vocabulary through direct study of selections from the Buddha’s discourses. It thus aims to enable you to read the Buddha’s discourses in the original as quickly as possible. The textbook for the course is A New Course in Reading Pali: Entering the Word of the Buddha by James Gair and W.S. Karunatilleke (1998, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, Delhi, India. ISBN 81-208-1440-1). The Pali grammatical tables were designed by Bhikkhu Nyanatusita.
The course proceeds sequentially through the chapters, or "Lessons," in the textbook, each of which has three parts:
- An initial set of readings and an accompanying glossary
- Grammatical notes on the forms in the lesson
- A set of further readings and a glossary
The lectures will be much more meaningful if the listener obtains a copy of the textbook and studies each lesson before listening to the associated set of lectures. Also, the textbook and lectures assume that the listener has a fundamental understanding of grammar. For those whose who feel that their knowledge of grammar needs refreshing, we recommend Pali Grammar for Students by Steven Collins (2006, Silkworm Books, ISBN 978-974-9511-13-8).
The following links and tables accompany the lectures.
|Pali Dictionary||Pali Alphabet|
|Pronoun Conjugation||Noun Declension 1|
|Noun Declension 2||Pronoun Declension|
|Verb Conjugation||Verb Conjugation and Pronoun Declension|