Pāli Etymology Question

Dear all,
may I ask you: Do you know about the etymology of the Pāḷi word “Pāḷi”, how it breaks up and from what root it is formed etc.? And can you recall any more or less lengthy scholarly or otherwise discussions to which you could kindly refer me to? I know it is a Dravidian loanword, but I remember having came across some papers or books trying to elaborating on it also from a standpoint of Pāḷi philology. I would be very grateful. Thank you!



Perhaps of some use when I answer my own question due to some research in the interim (any further thoughts from your side still welcome of course, if you will) :slightly_smiling_face::

The word “Pāḷi”(1) (also “Pāli”, “Paḷi” and anglisized “Pali”) was stated to be a Dravidian loanword meaning “row”, “line” and in the Theravāda Buddhist tradition later also “norm”, “text” (Levman (2), Mallik, 1970, pp. 78, 81; Rhys Davids & Stede, 1921, s.v. Pāli/Pāḷi). Respectively there also have been medieval and modern attempts to derive it from Sanskrit and within the indigenous grammatical system of the Pāḷi language itself. The latter reference of Rhys Davids and Stede sees a connection with Sanskrit pāli (Skt. √ pāla ) – “dam”, “dike”, “bridge”, but Gombrich (2018, p. 11) suggests it being derived from Sanskrit √ paṭha – “to recite”. The autochnonous Pāli grammar of Moggallāna (3) maintains (p. 147) a connection to the Pāḷi √ pāla , explained as having the meaning of “protecting”, as it has in Sanskrit. It explains as (loc. cit.): “ atthaṃ pāti rakkhatīti pāḷi ” – “ pāḷi : ‘it protects and keeps watch over the meaning’”. Childers (1875, s.v. Pāli) quotes an anonymous grammatical work being on the same lines as Moggallāna just referred to: “saddatthaṃ pāletīti pāli”, which he renders: “text is so called because it protects the sense of the words”. If we accept Jayawickrama’s (“Pāli”, 2003) claim that it is not possible to derive “Pāḷi” from Sanskrit pāṭha (√paṭha ) since no such phonological change is attested for, the constructions/suggestions of Moggallāna and Rhys Davids and Stede are the preferred choice.


– Childers, R. C. (1875). A Dictionary of the Pali Language. London: Trübner & Co. .
– Gombrich, R. (2018). Buddhism and Pali. Oxford: Mud Pie Books.
– Jayawickrama N.A. (2003) Pāli. In Weeraratne, W.G. (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Buddhism. (Vol. VII, pp. 265–279). Government of Sri Lanka (Department of Buddhist Affairs).
– Mallik, M. (1970). Foreign Elements in Pali. Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 51 (1), 77-82.
– Moggallāna (1999). Moggallānavyākaraṇa. Igatpuri: Vipassana Research Institute.
– Rhys Davids, T. W., & Stede, W. (Eds.) (1921). The Pali Text Society’s Pali-English Dictionary. London: The Pali Text Society.


  1. IPA: /ˈpaːli/; abbr. “pi” (ISO 639–1) or “pli” (ISO 639–2 and 3).
  2. Personal communication.
  3. Fl. ca. 1165 CE.