The Pāli Language

The historical founder of Buddhism, Gotama Buddha, wanted his teachings
to benefit all living beings, so he taught in a language that was understood
by the common people of what is now northern India (as opposed to Sanskrit,
which would have only been undersood by the elite). The common language
was Māgadhî, and its literary form is called Pāli. After the 14th century C.E.,
Pāli ceased to be used for any literature other than Buddhist scripture and
liturgy. All of the canonical texts of the Theravâda Tipitaka--the oldest extant
written record of teachings attributed to the Buddha-- have been passed down
through the centuries in the Pāli language.

Pāli is similar to Sanskrit in pronunciation and grammatical structure, but the
latter is a more formal language. Differences between the two can be seen by
comparing words such as kshanti (Skt) and khanti (Pāli); Dharma (Skt) and
Dhamma (Pāli); bhikshu (Skt) and bhikkhu (Pāli); mitra (Skt) and mitta (Pāli);
shamatha (Skt) and samatha (Pāli); or karma (Skt) and kamma (Pāli).

Pāli has no script of its own; it is written either in modified Roman script, the
Devanāgari script, or other Asian scripts such as Sinhalese, Burmese, or Thai.

For a Pāli pronunciation guide (for English speaking students), click here.

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