Question regarding a few phrases in SN 10.12: With Alavaka

Hello everyone :slightly_smiling_face:

I was reading this sutta today with the ‘line by line’ feature turned on (excellent feature BTW) and I could not help question certain pali phrases were associated with certain english phrases that I’m not used to seeing.

First of all, I humbly acknowledge that I am no pali expert…not by a long shot :laughing:

However, you know after a while when you’ve read a few suttas on SC and you associate certain pali phrases and their equivalent english translations and all of a sudden your brain comes across something and it says “Hmm that’s interesting, I was not expecting that”. :thinking:

I’ve highlighted and drawn a line to what I am used to seeing how certain pali words are associated/translated in enghlish:




Thanks in advance for your helpful explanation/s :anjal:


Nice catch, Adrian. It looks like from that section on, the Pāli is out of order with the English translation. I’d suggest reporting it in the thread below for the next scheduled cleanup of errors and typos:


AFAIK, due to differences in how sentences are formulated in Pali versus in English translators like venerable @sujato may have to map specific sentences in a swapped order to that found in the original. Maybe he can confirm if that is the case here. :anjal:


In which case it seems the segments are too small, no?

As Gabriel notes, the relation between root and translation segments is only ever approximate. This is natural language, nothing is ever precise or clear-cut, and to expect a formal system to provide that is to be perpetually doomed to disappointment.

This kind of issue occurs in prose, too, but is much more prevalent in verses, where the Pali freely mixes up word-order for both metrical and rhetorical purposes.

Yes, no. I mean … No it isn’t? Even if you make the segments the length of a verse, you’ll still have the same problem, albeit less often, and you’ll lose a lot of precision.


Yes. False precision.

Shouldn’t a segment be a translatable chunk? As you pointed out, these sentence fragments are basically untranslatable in isolation, requiring the reader to look at the rest of the verse. That very “non-isolatability” of the lines tells me that (semantically) these are not (standalone) segments.

What’s “false” about it?

In the dialog for enabling side by side view it says:

View original text with translation

There is no implication that every root text is exactly one-to-one matched with the translation.

In the page explaining the numbering system it says:

translations are matched with the original segment by segment, although the relation between text and translation for a particular segment need not be exact.

There are countless imprecisions of all kinds involved in handling any texts, especially huge and complex text corpi like we do. Handling them in fuzzy ways is not false precision, it is an essential understanding of the field.

Say I want a carpet in three pieces for my room, and I measure the length of a room by pacing it out to ten paces, well that’s about 10 meters. So I tell the carpet shop, make three pieces at 3333mm. When it comes back, I complain that it doesn’t fit. That’s false precision. It’s false because the carpet maker has no way of knowing how exact the measurement is, so they gain a false sense from the way the information is given them.

Here, we give you the original and the translation so you can see exactly what the text contains and what the translation is. (And let’s not forget that no-one else in the history of Buddhism has ever offered this degree of precision on this scale.) As a result of that, a user can identify exactly and with perfect precision how the root relates to the translation, which is, in fact, what the OP did.

More or less. It’s language. It’s messy. If you want to make a precise system that will perfectly handle every case, good luck! :pray:


It’s a technical term:

False precision (also called overprecision, or spurious precision) occurs when data are presented in a manner that implies more precision than is justified [by the inaccuracies inherent in the data].


Compiling an immense database that will do everything is something the SC staff are still grappling with. :rofl: Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu :pray:

Don’t forget that you can activate the Pali Word Lookup in Text Settings, and then hover your cursor over the Pali for a possible translation.

While they are struggling back in the engine room, we readers want to see everything displayed perfectly on our screens. I know nothing about coaxing databases into behaving nicely, but here are some reflections on displaying translation on a screen (in printed form on paper equally, plus they influence how I set out my own Pali homework). …

There is software available to Linguists for displaying multi-linear translation. I’m too out of touch to know current versions.

The top line holds the original sentence. The bottom line holds the translation in adequately idiomatic language.

The second line holds a complete grammatical analysis of each morpheme (word part that contributes meaning), eg Verb stem + 3rd person singular present tense suffix.

A third line holds the meaning of each word or phrase.

As different languages have different word orders ( eg Pali generally puts the verb last in the sentence, English generally doesn’t) , this procedure helps us see how the words keep changing places.

Here is a more user-friendly approach to displaying the same information for the pariyatti suttas:


Thanks everyone for all your valuable answers/feedback, I’m still learning and I very much appreciate them, thank you :anjal: