How do you pronounce Pali words like sujato


So, recently I heard on one of the PailAudio recordings Bhante @Sujato’s name pronounced short-short-long (lit. sujato). Is that correct? I had always thought it was short-long-long (lit. Sujāto). As in Sujātā who made the milk rice offering. “Well born”

I’ve looked at pdf’s of his publications, but no diacritics. I also noticed here, that there is a diacritic for Bhante Ānandajoti and not for Bhante Sujato. That’s what has given me cause to doubt.

I’m in the process of making some how-to videos and want to get it right.

FWIW, There are several cases of of senior monks having their name pronounced wrong. For example, almost everyone pronounces LP Pasanno as Passano. I asked him about it once and he said that early on he realized everyone would probably pronounce it wrong and he just gave up. :slight_smile: As well, most people associated with the Bhavana Society will pronounce Bhante Rāhula’s name as Rahūla. What to do.


Getting the difference between long and short, in syllables and vowels is really important in Pāli. If you pronounce it wrong, you’re usually saying a different word with a different meaning.

  1. pāsāṇa = a rock or a stone
  2. passana = seeing (vi-passana = clear seeing)
  3. pasanna = pleased, shining

All three of those words are pronounced differently. I try to pronounce pali words correctly. Even if everyone else is pronouncing it wrong. In suitable occasions, to suitable people who might be interested, I explain the issue. If no one stands up for truth and justice, then truth will die eventually.

It’s like in Chinese that has 4 tonal inflections for each syllable (each word in Chinese is one syllable). You pronounce it wrong, it’s a completely wrong word with wrong meaning, and people are going to think you’re an uneducated hick. But more importantly, they won’t understand what you’re saying. Which defeats the purpose of language.

The difference between long and short syllable in Pāli is the same issue. It’s only because very few people are fluent in speaking pali, no one makes a big deal out of it.


This is the best description of proper Pāli pronunciation I have ever seen.

Is it true that the Shanghai dialect of Mandarin is almost toneless?


It’s sujāto, short-long-long.

I stopped using diacriticals for my name long ago. The usual convention in publishing is to spell names the way the author normally spells it, rather than try to enforce a consistency. Ven Ānandajoti usually includes the diacritical, so we have it.


Thanks! You might want to let the folks at know.

BTW, I wasn’t complaining about not using the diacritics, just unsure what was correct.


Official Mandarin has the 4 tones. Cantonese is said to have some 12 tones. It’s probably all over the map depending on what regional dialect of either you look at.

Probably not unlike how Pali is pronounced differently in various Buddhist countries (or even sub-regions), as has been mentioned in this forum before.

Example that came to my attention: I’d learned the pronunciations “abhiDHAMMa”, and “dhammaPADa”. At a recent Pali class (teacher Burmese Hla Myint, with fellow students from Vietnam, Malaysia, …), they say “aBHIhamma”, and “dhamMApada”.


It’d be more comparable to the case that Cantonese speakers might try to speak Mandarin but retain traces of their own accent.

… and apart from your first pronunciation of Abhidhamma, none of these are correct. It should be abhiDHAMma and DHAMmapada. The long syllable is always stressed.

  1. pasannā = a spiritous liquor… or the feminine of 3.

I like to think that I’m aiming to be clear, confident and spirited and solid as a rock!

Pasanna also has an aspect of clarity like in Vipassana. It’s the pp of pasidati and I believe the confidence/gladness of a stream enterer.

Prasanna/ā is ‘delightful’ in Sinhala which adds to the confusion.

But there’s a whole other thread on my name! /hijack


sorry, I don’t know. But for Burmese speaking pali, they have an “international” version and a “burmese” version which sounds kind of like pig latin, where many pali vowels have a completely different transposed sounding vowel, not just an inflection or unintentional accent. The Burmese “international” version of pali, they don’t get the “long” and “short” syllables correct from what I’ve heard. Both are a mess.


Are the “DHAM” syllables in these two cases “long” because they proceed a double consonant? They don’t seem to appear with the long diacritic on the ‘a’.

Is there a rule in Pali similar to that I’m familiar with in some European languages (probably going back to high-school study of Latin) that vowels followed by double consonants are considered “long”?


I think that the capitalization on abhiDHAMma & DHAMmapada were stress, not length? Perhaps?

Gemination of a consonant usually produces stress on the previous vowel (like in Italian pero vs perro).


Like how “vipassanā” doesn’t have a longer initial “a” per se, but the ‘a’ is stressed as the ‘ss’ takes longer to come out. The last ‘a’ does get conventionally lengthened?


Yes. The three short vowels — a, i and u — become prosodically long when followed by either double consonants or the niggahīta, ṃ.


The idea of “correctness” might use some qualification.

Are there early historical descriptions of pronunciation for Pali? Hla Myint mentions that he takes from some early Pali grammar text in shaping his English book for learning the language. Precise study of grammar was a popular endeavor in Indic cultures, at least in the early centuries C.E. Anything similar recorded in the area of pronunciation?

Otherwise, if there are diverging customs for Pali pronunciation among different present-day Buddhist (Theravadan) countries / cultures, what’s the basis for asserting any one is more correct than the others? (Like “Queen’s English”, or “high German”?)

Interesting parallel is Latin – also a liturgical “dead” language, for which there are (at least) two pronunciation systems, as I recall: a “Germanic” system, said to be how the ancient Romans spoke, and an “Italianate” system, closer to modern Italian, and as used by the Roman Catholic Church (“Church Latin”).

Notable differences between these two:

Italinate: “Caesar” sounded, more or less, as “chayzar” (“seezer” in English);
Germanic: …. as “kayzar” (recognizable in the German “Kaiser”).

Italianate: “veni, vedi, veci” with “hard” “v” as we know in English, and soft “c”=“ch”;
Germanic: "wayni, waydi, waykee’ – soft “v” and hard “c” (i.e. “k”)

Curious that (contemporary) Pali pronunciation dialects also show an ambiguity between the hard and soft versions of pronouncing “v”.


Pāli: bhagavā arahaṃ sammāsaṃbuddho
Thai Pāli: pakawā arahang samāsang puwto

The Germanic pronunciation might also be called “Classical” and the Italianate “Ecclesiastic”.

There were/are also other systems for pronouncing Latin. Traditionally, you just pronounced Latin with the phonetics of whatever living language you spoke.

You can hear Poles pronouncing the ‘c’ in caeli as ‘ts’.

If you go and watch the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II you can hear the choir singing in Latin with a traditional Anglican pronunciation scheme.


Well, “early” needs some qualification, and I am no historian of Indian phonetics, but the science of Indian grammar, including phonetics, was already established in the time of the Buddha, and shortly afterwards Panini drew it together to become what I believe is the greatest and most enduring contribution of the ancient world to the worldly sciences, at least an equal to Euclidean geometry.

Pronunciation has been firmly established in the Indian sphere since then, so much so that even the writing systems are based on the place of articulation in the mouth. That’s right, the alphabetical order tells you how the different letters were pronounced.

This was spelled out for Pali in a series of grammars, written in medieval times. There is no divergence among Pali scholars as to what the correct pronunciation is (barring a couple of very minor details). It is just that people do not learn the correct pronunciation and their Pali is influenced by their local tongue.

Obviously in practice, when Pali was spoken, there would have been a variety of accents and pronunciations, as with any language. But unlike living languages, we have no witnesses to that diversity, we just have the texts and the normative grammar. Since experts in the nations recognize that the local pronunciations are incorrect, it is, it seems to me, unproblematic to assert that there is a “correct” pronunciation.