Is there a trilling "r" when speaking Pali?

In Spanish, “rr” is spoken with a longer trill of the tongue than “r” is. Is there a similar trill in Pali?

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This is just mostly off the top of my head/Wikipedia etc, I haven’t trawled the Pali grammars. Somebody else can do that.

Spanish features a good illustration of an alveolar flap, contrasting it with a trill: pero /ˈpeɾo/ “but” vs. perro /ˈpero/ “dog”.

Unlike Spanish, Pali has one r sound, there is no contrastive pair. The question is more whether that one sound should be realised as a tap, flap or trill (which may not have even have been considered as phonemically distinct by “the original Pali people” whoever they were, anyway).

Things like minor variations on tongue placement come down to dialect, you can’t find this stuff in books. By a potential Pali trilled r, I guess what could be meant is the sound produced by leaving the front part of the tongue flat/loose, passing air over it at high pressure, and letting the tongue tip contact the hard palate- the number of repetitions being the difference between a trill and a flap. I know Pali r is technically described as cerebral in the books, but where the contact between the tongue and palate occurs IRL is something you would need scans to see. Likely some kind of alveolar trill or flap.

If you bring the tongue to contact the roof of the mouth without any air pressure build-up, it’s a tap.

From what I understand (nb I’m not a Hindi speaker), in modern Hindi, at least two r sounds are used, depending on the place in the word and speaker preference. It can vary between a retroflex flap and a retroflex trill. Trilled vs flapped r in Hindi is a bit of a debated topic (or at least I gather this from the Indian forums) and may also have some regional variation. Some speakers may even used a tapped r (closer to English) in some positions.

From this brief survey of three possible consonantal rs in modern Hindi, in the absence of other sources, we might infer that a degree of trilling, in addition to flapping and possibly also tapping, with some positional variation is not unreasonable for Pali.

The more trilling, the closer the pronunciation is to Sanskrit/OIA. I think this is why some people have an instinctive reaction AGAINST a Pali trilled “r”. But actually, Sinhala r is also trilled or at least flapped, but you mightn’t hear the flap unless you were looking for it. I don’t think there is an issue with using a Sinhalese trilled/flapped r for Pali, but I don’t know as much about how this is realised IRL (i.e. as a trill or flap) compared to Hindi.

My native r is a “bunched” r. Speakers of Indian languages DO NOT typically hear this as an “r” sound. In any case, bunched r is probably not correct to use when speaking Pali.

Hope that helps (or not). Inferences based on Sinhala and Hindi are about all I can offer without teleporting to the past or actually doing a full trawl of the literature.


Thank you, Suvira! This is exactly along the lines I was asking about. I hear a few monastics trill fairly enthusiastically and I just chalked it up to enthusiasm. :joy:


I would just note that, regardless of the correct Pali, the Thai letter used for the transliteration (ร) is trilled in standard Thai (not so much in casual conversation where the trilling is often dropped, or it even morphs into an “l”).


In Burmese the Pali r gets realised as a y. This can be quite fun sometimes, like when the Burmese talk about eclipses being caused by a Yahoo swallowing the sun or moon (meaning, of course, the asura Rāhu). :laughing:


I remember hearing some strong trilling at Kelaniya’s Postgraduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies. Perhaps it didn’t make a difference to the speaker, but it did strike me, a Spaniard, as I had assumed Pali r’s would sound softer, more ‘Italian’.