# Pronunciation

# The Alphabet

The Pāli Alphabet pl:akkharā consists of 41 letters; namely:

  • 8 vowels pl:sara
  • 32 consonants pl:byañjana
  • 1 accessory nasal sound called Niggahīta (ṁ or ṃ).

# The Vowels

The vowels are divided into short and long;

  • the short vowels pl:rassa are: a, i, u.
  • the long vowels pl:dīgha are: ā, ī, ū, e, o.

The value of a long vowel is about twice that of a short one, so that it takes twice as much time to pronounce a long vowel as to pronounce a short one.

The two diphthongs are e and o, which are always long. They are diphthongs only grammatically, because they are supposed to be the product of the meeting and contraction of two vowels (a + i = e; and a + u = o). In reality and practically they are simple vowels.

Except a few special ones unique to Pāli, the majority of ordinary Pāli alphabets are pronounced like basic normal sound of English words. The following are the sample sounds of individual vowels (please take only the sound of underlined words, not of the whole word nor of any consonant)

  1. a to be pronounced as in amid, about
  2. ā to pronounce as in far
  3. i as in meet, eat
  4. ī as in we, he
  5. u as in shoot
  6. ū as in you, beauty
  7. e as in way
  8. o as in all, auto

# The Consonants

There is an "a" after each consonant which is added for easy utterance or producing an articulate sound of the respective consonants. There are five groups comprising five consonants in each which is called vagga. On the other hand, there are non-vagga consonants comprising seven consonants and one niggahita.

Note: In each group, every second and fourth consonants are aspirated. As a physical sign, there is an "h" which symbolizes the stress. So, it has to be pronounced with the stress and a puff of air being released.

The first and the third are unaspirated. So, they are pronounced normally without stress. The fifth ones in each vagga-group are nasals.

# Ka-group - K

This group of consonants are velar (guttural).

  1. K - Ka as in Kab
  2. Kh - Kha as in khaki, khmer
  3. G - Ga as in glad
  4. Gh - Gha as in ghat
  5. - Ṅa as in sing, John Ng

# Ca-group - C

This group of consonants are palatal.

  1. C - Ca as in Ciao (Italian greeting word)
  2. Ch - Cha as in Charge charity
  3. J - Ja as in jab
  4. Jh - Jha as in jack
  5. Ñ - Ña as in Lasagna, signor, signora (It is a nasal sound)

Note: There is a slight variation of the sound for both "J and Jh" which are pronounced as "za" and "zha" in Burmese.

# Ṭa-group - Ṭ

This group of consonants are retroflex, to be pronounced with the tongue being pulled backward away from the teeth and slightly touching the upper palate.

  1. - Ṭa as in tea
  2. Ṭh - Ṭha as in train
  3. - Ḍa as in disc
  4. Ḍh - Ḍha as in dart
  5. - Ṇa as in Nagoya

# Ta-group - T

This group of consonants are dental, to be pronounced with the tip of tongue touched against upper teeth or the ridge behind the upper teeth.

  1. T - Ta as in tachometer
  2. Th - Tha as in try or train
  3. D - Da as in daffodil
  4. Dh - Dha as in dark
  5. N - Na as in nab

# Pa-group - P

This group of consonants are labial, to be pronounced with lips gently touched against each other and then quickly opened.

  1. P - Pa as in pacific
  2. Ph - Pha as in facility, phacelia
  3. B - Ba as in basalt
  4. Bh - Bha as in bath
  5. M - Ma as in macau

# Non-Vagga group

  1. Y - Ya as in yacht, yak
  2. R - Ra as in rabbit
  3. L - La as in lab (to be pronounced with the tip of tongue gently touching the upper teeth)
  4. - Ḷa as in lasagna (actually, this is very much the same as ordinary "la"). To be pronounced with the mouth being slightly opened, with the tip of tongue slightly touching the upper palate.

Note: This is one special "Ḷ" with a different dot down below which is unique only to Sanskrit and Pāli. In the grammatical texts, it is mentioned as being homogenous and interchangeable with ordinary "L" despite having slight physical difference.

  1. W - Wa as in warp, vat (both sounds of w & v are permissible)

Note: In the grammatical text, there will be more of "v" such as "kvaci, vā and so on" though it is rather pronounced as "w" in majority of cases. For example, the word "Kvaci" is pronounced as Kuaci or kwaci, while "va" is sounded as wi. In Romanized Pāli "v" is sometimes represented as "b" while "w" is shown by both ways either as "v" or "w". Therefore, keep in mind that all these three of "b, v & w" are basically as well as morphologically homogenous to each other. This fact will become even clearer when studying the morphological procedures of the Pāli words which comprise either "v" or "w".

# One Sibilant

  1. S - Sa as in sabbath

# One Aspirate sound

  1. H - Ha as in habit, half

# Niggahita dot

This Niggahita "upper-dot" is semi-vowel as well as a semi-consonant though it is classified as a byañjana, (i.e. consonant in the grammatical text)

  1. - aṀ as in am

Note: This "" is interchangeable with all the fifth syllables "ṅ, ñ, ṇ, n, m" of the five vagga-groups through applicable morphological procedure. This means that "" can change into any consonant form of "ṅ, ñ, ṇ, n, m". These fives are called vagganta which means the group-endings (vagga-group + anta-ending). Sometimes, it is also referred to as "five nasal stops".

# Conjunct Consonants

Two consonants coming together form what is called a conjunct or double consonant. For instance, in: vassa, kattha and pandāpeti, the ss, tth, and nd, are conjunct consonants.

Only the letters of a same vagga or group (viz., the five divisions of the mutes: gutterals, palatals, etc.), can be brought together to form a conjunct consonant: the first and second, and the third and fourth only: the fifth letter of each group, that is the nasal, can be coupled with any of the other four consonants in its group.