Bhante Sujato Pali Course 2023: lesson 1

This thread is for those who have registered for the course. If you have tried to register and have not received an email, come to the class and sort it out with me later.

Please register an account here on Discourse. Do not ask questions on email, always use Discourse. We will use this email list only for official announcements.

The first lesson will be conducted on Jitsi. This is an online video calling service similar to Zoom, which we have used for our talks for the past several years. You do not need an account, nor do you need to download or install anything.

Just click this link:

  • In class, always keep your video on, unless there are connectivity problems
  • Make sure you unmute your mic before speaking

In the first class we will cover chapter 1 of Warder. You are expected to have completed the preliminary work as set out in the course outline.

Each week I will assign the next chapter of Warder as homework. Thus you will read the chapter, master the grammar, learn the vocabulary, and complete all the exercises before the class. In class, I will review the content and discuss any questions you raise about the chapter.

I will require that every student states in the chat that they have completed the course work for the previous week. If you have not completed it, you must say you have not completed it. There are no exceptions: this is not a class where anyone can sit in the back without participating.

In addition, during the class I will ask students at random to answer questions, so be prepared.

If you find that you are not able to keep up with the coursework, then this is not the course for you. We understand: life is demanding, dogs eat homework, and Pali is hard. Not a problem, just let us know on email if you cannot continue the class.

I have been reviewing Warder myself for this class, and am already learning (or relearning) things. I look forward to embarking on this journey with you.

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Just a heads up, my internet is like molasses tonight, I’ll use my phone for the meeting connection, hopefully it will work out okay.

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Thanks for the lesson tonite. I actually enjoyed the pronunciation practice and the lesson, and thank you for answering (almost) all of the questions.

I didn’t have too many problems with the audio, but sometimes it went a bit “blurry” but that’s okay. Not sure my voice came through during the speakalong, I didn’t hear myself but perhaps that is normal.

PS - I forgot that hoti was irregular, thank you anyway for clarifying.

PPS - Unfortunately I won’t be able to make next week’s class, my apologies (it’s my birthday and apparently plans are afoot …) but I will try and make the remaining classes.

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47 posts were merged into an existing topic: Sujato Pali Course 2023: resources

I hope this is the right thread for asking questions.

Here is my first question.

Bhante, or anyone else on the class who is more advanced than myself: can you shed some light on the different verb conjugation groups? Is there a grammar guide that explain this further? Most books I have read (eg. Duroiselle) just gives the conjugation rules for each group and a list of verbs that are in the groups.

Are there any reason, meaning or guidelines as to how words are assigned to conjugation groups? Is it based on sound (Pali is a verbal language), root endings (consonant/vowel), root meaning, topic, or is it just random?

Is there also a way of determining which conjugation group a word should belong in, just by looking at the root? Although Warder is initially carefully about telling us which conjugation group a word belongs in, he kind of gives up later on and just list words so I am left guessing which group they belong to.

I noticed words in a conjugation group tend to share word endings, but roots with the same ending letter can be assigned to different groups. There is also one root () that belongs in two conjugation groups (1st group division 4 where it becomes dadāti and 7th group where it becomes deti) but it is effectively the same word and different variants are chosen for the various tenses/inflections.

It seems to me there may be a commonality between words in a conjugation group, but my poor brain can’t figure it out. Or maybe I am over-reaching.

@kora, maybe this is a question you can ask ChatGPT? I’ll be fascinated to see if it can be trained to look at words in the same conjugation group, look at their usage in the Tipitaka, and see if it can spot any patterns.

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By the way, class, I would recommend reading the preface to Warder. I found it helpful since it details his intentions, methodologies, or how we should treat his book in order to learn.

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I don’t think we ever need to to this, because we won’t come across pure roots in texts. We will only find inflected verbs.

The way I understand it, roots are artificial concepts by grammarians which were in a way “invented” by backward reasoning (“the forms of this verb have such and such in common, so we can derive this root”).

I think it will be best to learn the 3rd person singular form of verbs and if we want, we can learn the root on the side, not putting too much emphasis on it.

On another note, the Learn Pali channel gives some information about root in this video from 3:56 onwards: Warder's 'Intro to Pali': Chapter 1 | Learn Pali Language - YouTube
Not sure if you have come across this information already.

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Sadly, we do need to know the roots. From Lesson 4 onwards, you will find some of the tenses/types of verbs are based on the root (eg. aorist, which is introduced in that lesson) and others (eg. imperative), are based on the “present stem”, which is what we learnt in Lesson 1.

If you don’t know the roots, you are forced to learn each word multiple times (in all the different tenses and conjugations). You also need to learn to recognise the verb in its many conjugations, and not knowing the root will make it that much harder, since all the conjugations are ultimately derived from the root.

Knowing the root also gives you the ability to sometimes “guess” or infer the meaning of new words based on the same root but a different prefix (although this sometimes doesn’t work). For example, vadati means “speak” and abhivadeti means “greet or salute” (both based on the root vad). Another example: veṭheti means wrap and nibbeṭheti (both based on veṭh) means “untwist” or “unravel”. There’s a whole bunch of words based on pad and kam but with different prefixes that are kind of related to each other.

Warner also gets lazy in the latter chapters and gives words in a non present tense (eg. bhinna in Lesson 11 page 64 which means “divided, split”) but he doesn’t give you the present equivalent, so you are left to figure out how to construct the present from the root which is bhin. And to do that, you need to know the conjugation group so you can apply the right rules (Warder doesn’t tell us). Hence my question.

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I guess I can retrieve word info from PtS dict and examples from Tipitaka and ask ChatGPT to find some patterns. But I am away from home, so I don’t have good pali book to help me do the work properly. I can’t remember much of these conjugation groups, beyond bhū being the first one. haha

For something more basic, here is my chatlog while I read lesson #1 and discuss with ChatGPT to check its understanding and even clarify my understanding.

https://chat.openai.com/share/9784462b-05a8-4853-a6f8-ab5c44a5e365

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Hi friends,

I just wanted to follow up on the lesson from Tuesday, I felt that I wasn’t able to give the clarity that y’all deserved, because of internet, and also just adjusting the presentation for the format. I’ll try to improve as we go along. Normally the internet here is not great (thanks NBN!). I dropped out while speaking at another important meeting yesterday, so it’s not just you! But last Tuesday was particularly bad, i’m not sure why, but both my phone and wifi were terrible.

I think we’ll continue with Jitsi for the next class. After that, Deepika will return from SL and we’ll have the option of switching to Zoom if we like. Don’t imagine that Zoom will solve our problems, though, no service can work if the internet is no good. If next week is still buggy, I’ll look at wifi alternatives.

I’ll be making a new thread for each class, so look for the next thread if you want to discuss issues with lesson 2.

Happy birthday Christie! Here, have some cake :cake:

Nice, thanks! I’ll make a list of resources for the course and add this to it.

Don’t worry, stick to learning lesson by lesson. Don’t jump ahead! Once we’ve covered the classes in order, some of these questions will be answered, others will be answerable.

If you’ve done the lesson and have more time to give, I would recommend memorizing prose suttas rather than going too hard on grammar.

Indeed, yes.

Not really. I don’t know the conjugation group, but the verb is bhindati. How? I just know. The most important thing is reading and comprehension. Grammar is there to assist when that doesn’t work. (Oh, and BTW the root is bhid.) NGL, I rarely look at conjugations when working out verbal forms. Mostly the endings are all you need, and the knowledge of verbal groups and the like comes through familiarity.

Another super-useful tool is the Digital Pali Dictionary. I use it all the time, and it usually gives these details. I’ll post about it in the upcoming “resources” thread.

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From @Luis

I’m reviewing the first class and having a hard time understanding the process of strengthening vowels in the derivation of present tense verb stems.

Just a reminder, Vowel Gradation is a general phonetic phenomena in Pali. We happen to be learning it in the context of first conjugation verbs, but this is just one of many places it can be observed. Vowel Gradation is, in and of itself, meaningless, it is purely a change in the phonetics. In fact we do similar things in English. Consider the initial vowel in “child” as compared with “children”. In this irregular plural, the vowel is weakened from ai to i. We pronounce the difference, but don’t spell it. In Pali, it’s always spelled out.

The usefulness of Vowel Gradation is that it helps us recognize the different forms of words. Sometimes these indicate meaningful grammatical changes (the concrete noun mitta “friend” becomes the abstract noun mettā “friendliness”), sometime they indicate words with distinct meanings (bhava is “existence” while bhāva is “state”), and other times they are simply variant spellings (eg. viriya vs. vīriya).

What is “the compound vowel nearest in place of articulation” (referred to in page10)?

Go back to the table of letters in the Introduction. The places of articulation are on the left: back of the throat, roof of the mouth, etc. Each has a set of consonants associated with it, and also a set of vowels. The consonants b, bh, p, ph for example are labial, pronounced with the lips, and the semi-vowel v (or w) is articulated as the same place, as are the vowels u and o.

(I have a meeting, I’ll get to the rest of the questions soon.)

What is closer to what in the Vowel Gradation diagram? Is this the same as the rule expressed in page 10? (i becomes e, and u becomes o, etc. which means that e is like i with a prefixed a, and o is like an u with a prefixed a… did I get it right?)
And why in the case of bhavati the ū in the root was strengthened, but it was lengthened in bhāveti (examples given in page 12).

v

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Hi @bran, I didn’t reply on this yesterday, but it is good advice.I wanted some time to reflect and ponder on the implications on my learning of Pali.

One of the things I took from Warder’s preface is that, unlike some other textbooks and grammar guides, Warder teaches grammar from the “classical Pali” perspective (he specifically refers to providing “a grammar of Pali in its ancient phase”) rather than adhering to modern grammar and linguistics.

More specifically, a lot of the grammar in Warder comes from the " Kaccāyanabyākaraṇaṃ" - the oldest extant Pali grammar.

Anyway, this led me down a rabbit hole yesterday where I was trying to find out more information about Kaccāyana and I ended up reading Māgadhabhāsā (Pāḷi) – A Compendious Grammar on the Language of Pāḷi Buddhism (Second Edition).

From there, i received the understanding that the word vyākaraṇaṃ does not exactly translate to grammar in English. As the 19th century Sri Lankan scholar bhikkhu Subhūti explains

Vyākaraṇa is the science of writing and speaking a language without fault and of understanding the intentions of texts by knowing all the divisions and syntactic relations of a language’s expressions.

So it is not a pure book about grammar but a mixture of syntax, morphology, grammar but also semantics, with a focus on syntax production rules.

So the verb conjugation groups are mainly syntax rules, there is no semantic meaning associated with them.

Interestingly (my speculation, not explicitly stated in the book), Pali cases may also be more syntactic rather than semantic. Or, at least, there are two “aspects” of cases - one syntactic, and one semantic, and they are referred to using different terms in classical Pali grammar.

Syntactic cases are given numbers: paṭhamā (first), dutiyā (second), etc. Much like the verb conjugation groups. These are just syntax production rules, governing how the nouns are inflected. There is no number associated with vocative, because vocative is just the noun stem uninflected.

Then, each numbered syntactic case is “associated” with a semantic case, named paccattavacana (nominative), āmantaṇavacana (accusative) and so on.

The important insight and “a ha” moment for me is that the association between syntactic case and semantic case is strong but by no means fixed in concrete. And this explains places in the suttas when a word is inflected in one case but the semantic usage is that of another case - this happens more often than I would have thought, and it’s not just because it’s a mistake in the text - it’s sometimes used for emphatic or stylistic reasons.

Hence the reason why genitive and dative cases share the same inflections - over time the the 6th form of case inflections have gradually been used for both semantic cases.

Warder confuses between syntactic and semantic cases by conflating them using European grammar classifications.

Warder also “incorrectly” (in my opinion) refers to nipāta as “indeclinable” whereas it’s probably better described as “particle”. There are also different types of nipāta which Warder doesn’t fully explain.

Hence his rather confusing and inconsistent explanations of the yenatena construction - he refers to the indeclinable yena governing the use of the nominative noun on page 14 but then on page 73 he refers to it as an “instrumental”.

A much simpler explanation is if we regard this as a syntactic rule: the yenatena construction requires the noun to be inflected in the 1st case form, just like when you quote a word.

On a different note, the enclitic me is much easier to understand if we regard it as an undeclinable that can be associated with three different semantic cases, rather than irregular inflections of the various syntactic cases.

So, anyway, to cut a long story short, I think if we were to continue studying Pali using Warder, it would be helpful to think of the grammar from a classical perspective rather than from a modern perspective. For this reason, I am going to try to learn and use the Pali terminology rather than the English, to avoid further confusion.

For example, I am going to internally think of gender using the Pali names pulliṅga, itthiliṅga, napuṁsakaliṅga rather than masculine, feminine and neuter. This helps me to understand that a single noun can be inflected using multiple genders. For example kumāra can be inflected as kumāro as well as kumārī, used to denote masculine and feminine versions of the noun.

Sorry for the long and somewhat rambling post. I am documenting it more to clarify my thoughts rather than imposing my opinions on others. Feel free to completely disregard this post and follow your own path.

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Thanks Bhante!

I pretty much came to the same conclusion in my deep dive in classical Pali grammar yesterday. The verb conjugation groups are pretty much syntactic.

And thank you for correcting my spelling mistake for the root bhid! That’s what happens when I type fast rather than copy and paste.

I’ve decided my focus is on being able to read Pali, and not really on the ability to write Pali, so I’ve decided to “let it go” and be relaxed (upekkha) about the syntax production rules in classical Pali grammar.

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Yep, that’s exactly it. The main thing to remember is that in certain situations, vowels can strengthen along the given axis. Mostly you’ll just need to recognize that they are, in fact, different phonetic values for the same thing (eg. bhavati and hoti).

But in some cases you’ll need to dig down to understand why the difference is there. An example would be in the often-subtle indications of the difference between the name of the place and the name of the people who live in that place. The people of Videha are called Vedehi, for example. See too the Jina (i.e. Mahavira) whose followers are called Jaina (that’s a Sanskritic form, where the dipthong remains; it doesn’t seem to occur in Pali, but would probably be Jena). (These construction are secondary derivation, which is a later topic.)

In this case the “lengthening” (i.e. one more step on the gradation) is meaningful, as it indicates a causal verb. Bhavati = “one is”, bhāveti = “one makes it become (more)”, i.e. “develops”. But causal verbs come much later!

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In Lesson 1 Warder gives the word upasaṁkamati (to approach).
In the dictionary (in PTS at least) - I can’t find it with this spelling, but instead there is upasaṇkamati with .

Is it just that there are various spellings for the same word?

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Yes. (-ish)*

This is discussed briefly in p. 4 of Warder’s Introduction, on the “nasal”, and the first footnote on that page.

Before the gutteral consonants (k, kh, g, gh), the nasal sound is spelled ṅ. In Romanized Pali we typically spell such conjuncts as ṅk, ṅg, and so on.

However the sound is exactly the same as ṁ. It is technically possible to spell the same words ṁk, ṁg. Thus sometimes you might see saṁgha instead of saṅgha.

The specific nasal sounds that correspond to the relevant place of articulation are each spelled differently (ṅk, ñc, ṇṭ, nt, mp), and in theory are pronounced differently, but in reality we just pronounce them that way because they’re a nasal before a consonant: it’s just kind of how the sound comes out, you don’t think about it.

Usually modern editions will specify the correct nasal before the consonant. Manuscripts, however, are inconsistent, so you’ll want to get used to seeing both forms.

* The “-ish” is because you seem to have spelled it incorrectly. It’s not ṇ but ṅ. Is this just a typo, or is it a mistake in the dictionary?

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Oh yes! My mistake, the dictionary has it correct. :grinning:

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Bhante :pray:, regarding memorization. I have pseudo-memorized some devotion chants and also anatthalakkhana sutta and aditta pariyaya sutta. And I wonder about ‘memorization techniques’.

So far I just chant it along with a youtube video and once I do that several times it starts to get imprinted on the memory but I wonder, given that the tradition is heavily oral there must be ‘techniques’ or ‘tips and tricks’.

For example: sometimes I wonder if repeating little sections a lot on a single sitting is better than the whole sutta all the time. in that case, I also wonder how many repetitions is enough.

And, are there any resources for studying the techniques of the oral recitations and their mnemonic strategies?

thank youuuu

Thanks a lot, very interesting chat session, and one that shows the potential as well as the limitations of ChatGPT.

I guess one of the issues is that there isn’t a lot of literature on the conjugation groups - Warder is one of the few that even mentions them. And the grammar books like Duroiselle don’t really explain them. So I am not surprised ChatGPT would focus more on the inflectional endings based on person (vibhatti).

Maybe you have to train it explicitly with the conjugation groups, supply a set of roots belonging to each conjugation group, then ask it to determine if there are any commonality across sentences that use verbs in a specific conjugation group.

Duroiselle has the list of conjugation groups and common words in each. I’ve been told someone has compiled a list of all 1700 roots and which conjugation group they fall into, but I haven’t been able to track it down.

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Indeed.

When I was a young monk, I memorized the patimokkha in seven weeks, and in addition, memorized dozens of suttas in Pali. Here’s how I did it.

  • Each day, learn a new passage. Usually a few sentences. Go over them phrase by phrase, then sentence by sentence until they are completely fluent. Be sure to be precise in pronunciation.
  • Learn the grammar and vocabulary of the Pali as you go, so it is meaningful.
  • Then, each day, recite by heart all that has been learned up till then, plus the new passages.
  • Don’t stop before you finish! You will not come back and learn it again later!
  • When finished, recite the whole piece by heart every day for a significant period (for patimokkha, I did it every day for a year.)
  • When you stop reciting it every day, come back to it every week or so.

I found that the best posture for learning was walking. I would take the text for learning onto the walking path and chant there. Something about the rhythm helped reinforce learning.

Reciting alongside a clip or something is fine, but as quickly as you can, graduate to chanting purely by sight-reading.

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