Pali Pronunciation: Aspiration and Gemination

I don’t know if they are officially geminate consonants, but double consonant lengthening is often ignored by native English speakers, at least in America.
Hence ‘meta’ (mettā), bood-ah, Mog-alana, Sari-puta, (with accent in wrong place) etc.

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I found this pronunciation: OCBS Online Pali Course - Level 1: Lecture 04 (Pali Alphabet and Pronunciation) - YouTube

Would like to hear opinions here whether it is a good example or not.

BTW, though I’m going to learn Pali for translation, I want to be able to pronounce it as close to the ‘correct’ version as possible.

Thank you.

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@Dheerayupa It is all right. It has the same issues already raised previously in the thread, to a lesser extent, to be sure.
The following may not be the best way to learn the language but pronunciation wise it is very good. It has only simple words and phrases though.


Thank you.

It seems a good model is hard to find…

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Bhante @sujato adresses Pali pronunciation at the beginning of this course session.


Thanks a million :pray:

This is great!

That, I think, rather settles the matter.

This is a good primer on the phonemes from many languages and goes into the pitfalls of (not) pronouncing aspirated letters. It’s quite long but it tickled my nerdy bone, with my smattering of Western European languages.


Yes! That man has some serious pronunciation skills and I’ve admired some of his Latin videos.

He’s right on with most of us not realizing our aspirated p (ph) and how the unaspirated sounds a lot like a b- I’m sure many of us have been surprised when hearing ‘Pāli’ pronounced a lot like the island of Bali!


Thanks Stephen.
So, in Pali how do we know when a consonant is/should be geminated? Not always by the spelling as in mettā? I’m getting confused by the Romanisation of Pali phonemes, ie d and dh, g and gh, happen to be double letters but they are not lenghtened consonantal phonemes. This confusion can’t occur in S Asian writing systems. In Buddha is it the d or the dh that is geminated?


Your linguistic expertise exceeds mine, so I’m not really able to answer your question properly.
Looking at the Wiki article on ‘gemination’, I see under ‘aspirated consonants’:
“Gemination of aspirated consonants in Hindi are formed by combining the corresponding non-aspirated consonant followed by its aspirated counterpart. “
Examples given are ‘pat.thar’ (stone, Pali=patthara) and ‘mak.khi’ (fly, Pali=makkhikā)

I tend to think of this on a much simpler (and therefore certainly a less precise) level. When I see consonant doubling like this, I understand there should be a syllable break there.
I was always surprised by an Italian friend pronouncing a young English boy’s name as ‘Fred-dy’ when I would always say ‘Fred-ee’. (Basically 1 syllable for me)
When I asked, he replied, “because there are 2 d’s!” And so it is in Italian, ‘uccello’, ‘bricco’, ‘Masaccio’, ‘bevve’ vs. ‘beve’ etc.
from a formal linguistic background there is probably more here than what I am describing, but I just try to pronounce Pali like Italian!
Met-ta, dham-ma, cak-cku, etc.

To be honest, I try not to get too obsessed with Pali pronunciation, it’s a pretty deep rabbit (rab-bit?) hole to go down, and the Dham-ma (not dama- Mamma mia!) is more exciting to me!

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Thank you for this. I had checked Wikipedia, and not understood how it applies to Pali. But syllable breaks are important for basic reading aloud/chanting. I now get the force of Ayya’s remark.

Yes. And poor @Jake must feel that our original attempts to help him with the basics has got totally out of hand

Sorry Jake. :pray:


The (Sri Lankan) way I have learned it, especially for chanting, is that there is a break, except for voiced consonants, b, m, d, g, and even c which are sustained with a nasal sound. The b in sabba becomes something like b_m_b which I think is b̻ in IPA? In x-SAMPA it would be sAb_~/ba.Saggesu is something like sAg_~/gE::.sU and sAc_~/ca for sacca.

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I think Thai chanting is less nasalised, but maybe others can confirm this.

I am surprised that the Learn Pali channel has a good video on pali pronunciation! I’d been refusing to click on it, because his Pali pronunciation is soooooo terrible. He uses the Seeing Speech Lab to show how the sounds are formed in the mouth.

At some point we probably should have split this thread!


This thread was split from another discussion.


Well, he does apologise:

:rofl: :rofl:
Ayya @Suvira and @stephen I don’t think everything he says is 100% from a linguistic theory point of view, but this seems a very good resource for learners and their teachers imho,

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I regularly use Pali for many things which are not chanting, but anyway…

Re chanting. I used to do syllabification worksheets with my classes before I stopped teaching. I just printed the chanting sheets and got my class to mark where the syllables were, and the heavy and light syllables (metrification being different to stress). A significant percentage of the class got tripped up by syllable breaks with conjunct consonants last time, so I think it’s good to do this exercise with a few stereotypical gathas. It also gave me a chance to explain the concept of changes “metris causa”. There are of course more complex things that can happen with scanning in Pali (e.g. two shorts scanning as long), but I don’t teach it at an introductory level.

The other things with chanting is to realise that Sri Lankan and Thai chanting and Burmese Pali texts are not all the same. You might think you know the Pali Metta Sutta, but you actually know the Sri Lankan Pali version for example. This mightn’t worry you at first, but what happens if you accidentally memorise half your chants in Sri Lankan version, and half your chanting in Thai versions? That would be very confusing. I think it’s much better to pick one and stick to it than to regret later when all the ca’s and vaa’s are messed up in your head.

There are about two main styles of Sri Lankan chanting. I don’t teach Style 1 but you may hear it from time to time. Last time I heard it was in Ven. Rathanasara’s recordings. I don’t have sufficient experience of Burmese chanting styles to comment.

In terms of pronunciation;

Style 1: e becomes ei, and geminates are separated by the homorganic nasal (I have heard the latter by Sri Lankan chanters only). So you get, virupak-n-kehi mei met-n-tam… in the Khandha Paritta. This is what Ayya @Pasanna was referring to. @gillian I have never heard this in Thai chanting either.
Style 2: this doesn’t happen.

N.B. in Sinhalese Pali, a always becomes schwa in unstressed position (like word ending a). This changes words in ways that mightn’t be obvious, like saməyaṃ for samayaṃ. and for ca.

My [Sri Lankan] Pali teacher was very keen to tell me that one must use different styles for Patimokkha to regular chanting. I assume the inauspicious (avamangala) occasions require different styles too. But I have not, alas, inherited a full knowledge of Sri Lankan chanting styles beyond this. I have heard the Mahamangala Sutta recited in Sarabhanna style with the lengthening described here, however:
Sarabhanna in JBS XVIII (2021).pdf (812.0 KB)

Re: Thai style-

IAST values are never used in the Thai pronunciation of Pali. Here is an example of how sounds are substituted to give the characteristic features of Thai Pali chanting:

Tone is an innate quality of Thai letters, so there is an inherent tonal value to the sounds chanted which comes from Thai. The tone system in Thai originated together with loss of a voicing distinction with the voiced consonants becoming low tone, and the unvoiced becoming mid and high. Which is why I guess we hear such unusual things happening with the voicing in Thai Pali.

It gets more involved as there are two styles of Thai chanting, makhot and samyok, which have their own things happening with tones. See this pdf from Ajahn Geoff for an explanation:
ChantingToneGuide151003.pdf (80.9 KB)

In addition to the “Sarabhañña” (สรภัญญะ) already mentioned. But I think you see it more in praise of the triple gem etc in Thai chanting.

From Wikipedia: This is an example of a Pali text written using the Thai Sanskrit orthography: อรหํ สมฺมาสมฺพุทฺโธ ภควา [arahaṃ sammāsambuddho bhagavā]. Written in modern Thai orthography, this becomes อะระหัง สัมมาสัมพุทโธ ภะคะวา arahang sammasamphuttho phakhawa.

Anyway, it gets a bit complex because of this, but from the Youtube, you can see that ภควโต, pʰa-kʰa-wa-to, is bhagavato in Thai Pali.

Which is probably why I neither learned nor have taught actual Thai style chanting, as Thai Pali is not intelligible to those trained in Pali outside of Thailand.

For myself, I normally use the 2nd style of Sri Lankan chanting without the e–>ei shift and fancy geminates.

I had lots of paritta recordings from Ven. Na Uyane Ariyadhamma (Sri Lankan), but some people thought the sound quality isn’t great. There are many recordings of him chanting Catubhanavarapali, etc, that could be found online I guess, I think a certain Ven. Dhammajata posted them on Youtube? By the time you have gone through 29 suttas, that is a fair bit of Pali. This is what I used when I was learning the Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta, etc. These days I think Mahamevnava probably has better audio quality e.g. Maha Paritta - Mahamevnawa Buddhist Monastery, it’s only slightly more ornamental than BSV style. But if you wanted to do Thai style, the 7 or 12 paritta collections are also fine.

Sorry for not being more useful in this area: actually the chanting books we see in the Thai forest tradition are Westernised/creole already and don’t really represent Pali as it is pronounced in Thailand. However some tonal aspects have been retained.


My word! You have been extremely useful Ayya.

I have heard Sri Lankan chanting described as the best style to learn. Given that Sinhala is related to Indo-Aryan languages, and that Thai and Burmese have phonemic tones, two things follow: Sinhala is closer to Pali and easier for speakers of W European languages to mimic.

Informal spotty research on YouTube is showing me that some chanting styles (official or unofficial, I have no idea) are much more tuneful than others. Basically for ‘fun’ I assume. But I notice that there’s little variation in syllable stress. Your classroom worksheets sound like a good idea.

Would you be willing to share more Ayya?

Thank you for taking so much time to share so much knowledge and to explain it carefully.


I use Pali to:

  1. follow the Pali “chaya” (shadow text) where one has been prepared by the University of Sydney’s Dr. Mark Allon for a Gandhari text [requires active Pali production skills on Mark’s part, I’m just a beneficiary]
  2. Aural comprehension of Pali in cases where a translation is not provided (there seems to be a lot of Pali quotation in the circles I frequent)
  3. To be this sort of Pali-quoting person myself on occasion.
  4. For formal acts of the sangha and ritualised formula for other sangha matters (we don’t have the latter here but have done it elsewhere).
  5. To check and alter such formulae as necessary
  6. For trying to work out what on earth is going on when the international bhikkhus are here but nobody speaks English (generally results in one-word statements and three-word sentences).
  7. For reading the canonical root text, commentaries and subcommentaries
  8. For assistance in reconstructing the Indic source as an aid to the translation of Chinese Buddhist texts.
  9. To edit and provide feedback on new editions of Pali texts
  10. To read Pali grammars and other miscellaneous literature
  11. To read or listen to “new” Pali compositions (I think there was a total of about two in the past thirty years, but if you write something in Pali, I will volunteer to read it).
  12. To cross-reference the Sanskrit
  13. To learn Sinhala, Thai and Burmese etymology
  14. To answer the queries of my friends
  15. To name monasteries, and monastics.
  16. To edit English Buddhist publications with a high volume of loanwords and prepare an index for the same
  17. To complete spoken Pali exercises with my class according to the spoken Pali textbook and with substituting words.

But alas I don’t have a class anymore, I hope those who survived Pali conversation drill with Ayya Suvira are all having Paliful lives now.

Heavy/light syllables are well described in the traditional literature, so yes, you are correct, there should actually be zero variation on these with a good chanter unless the text itself is different.