SC-Voice: Raveena meets Slow Amy


Oh no. Now you’ve gone all meta on us. :speak_no_evil::heart:


Metta is naturally written as ‘meththa’ by sri lankans, according to how it is pronounced in Sinhalese. I had my email sign-off, meththa ‘corrected’ to metta, by a Ven Mettavihari a Danish monk, who developed, a precursor to suttacentral, many years ago. - this shows the precence of ‘th’ from an early age.

So when metta is pronounced as meththa it sounds just little softer and kinder than the harsh ‘t’ usage. :slight_smile:

with loving-kindness :wink:,


Yes, of course, I should have given this link!

Huh, I’d never realized this. Now I get to research the phonetics … hmm.

There’s a nice chart here where you can hear the various sounds of the IPA:

English lacks a plosive palatal, so there is no way of giving an exact analogue. However Wikipedia says this:

[ɟ] is a less common sound worldwide than [d͡ʒ] because it is difficult to get the tongue to touch just the hard palate without also touching the back part of the alveolar ridge.[1] It is also common for the symbol ⟨ɟ⟩ to be used to represent a palatalized voiced velar stop or palato-alveolar/alveolo-palatal affricates, as in Indic languages. That may be considered appropriate when the place of articulation needs to be specified, and the distinction between stop and affricate is not contrastive.

Which seems reasonable.

Listening to the samples, both the one on the IPA chart, and the one you give, it seems to me that [ɟɑ] sounds closer to [dʒɑ] than [g]. Sorry!

How would you go about teaching the correct pronunciation to an English speaker?

Well, I don’t think he does, but regardless, that’s not how it is supposed to be pronounced.


I think the only widely-spoken forms of English that contain [c] and [ɟ] are Jamaican Creole and Black British English. When Jamaican dub poets wish to indicate palatalization, they’ll do so by inserting a ‘y’ in the word. Linton Kwesi Johnson, for example spells “car” as “kyar” and “guard” as gyard.

So, the palatals can be taught in the same way. For Pali ca, start by saying “car kyar, car kyar, car kyar, car kyar…” until one develops a sensitivity to the difference between the velar and the palatal initial consonants. Then try saying kyar without the y but without making it sound like car.

For Pali ja one repeats the process using “guard” and “gyard”.


Sadly, AWS Polly generates identical sound files for many of these sounds and ignores IPA subtleties. I think what they have done here is applied the local human recording of “j” to the IPA symbol. We could not, for example, get Raveena to say “jar”. Nor can we get Sali to say “jhana”.

Here is Raveena saying “jhana” with three different IPA phonemes. Raveena is our best bet for Pali fidelity. Which one of these jhana’s is closest to Pali?


The first is closest.

<speak><prosody rate="-20%" pitch="0%"> Raveena says
1. <phoneme alphabet="ipa" ph="ʄhɑna">Cūḷadukkhakkhandhasutta</phoneme>.
2. <phoneme alphabet="ipa" ph="ʄʰɑna">Cūḷadukkhakkhandhasutta</phoneme>.
3. <phoneme alphabet="ipa" ph="ʄɑna">Cūḷadukkhakkhandhasutta</phoneme>.

Thank you. So shall it be ʄhɑna. :pray:


This is a common phenomenon in the pronunciation of Indo-Aryan speakers. The English alveolar /t͇/ sound is actually alveolar, i.e. it is pronounced with the tip of your tongue at the so-called alveolar ridge, that bumpy thing between your upper teeth and the edge of you hard palate. The interdental /θ/, commonly spelt as ‘th’ in English, is pronounced with the tip of your tongue between your teeth.

The Indo-Aryan languages do not have these sounds, instead they have the dental /t/ with the tip of your tongue at your upper teeth and the retroflex /ʈ/, commonly written in the romanization of Indo-Aryan languages as ‘ṭ’ and pronounced with the tip of your tongue slightly curved back and put roughly between the alveolar ridge and the hard palate.

These four sounds, the alveolar /t͇/, interdental /θ/, dental /t/, and retroflex /ʈ/ are four completely different sounds. So, when Indo-Aryan speakers learn English, they frequently try to find the closest phonological approximations to the sounds they use in their native languages and start resorting to them in their English pronunciation. This is why they commonly use the retroflex /ʈ/ sounds instead of the English alveolar /t͇/ and the dental /t/ sounds instead of the English interdental /θ/, which results in pronunciations like ‘ṭoot’ (‘tooth’), ‘healt’ (‘health’), etc. Keeping that in mind, it is actually easy to imitate an Indo-Aryan accent :grinning: It is also important to note, that there is nothing wrong with such phonological approximations, e.g. people speaking Slavic languages do them all the time too, using their rolling r’s and dental t’s and whatnot. Heck, I do it all the time when I speak English!

However, in the Sinhala tradition people are mostly unaware of these phonological distinctions, so they really believe that the English ‘th’ sound is equivalent to the Sinhala and Pali dental ‘t’, hence erroneous spellings like ‘meththa’. The truth is they are not, and the story of that Sri-Lankan group believing that people got the meaning of ‘atta’ (‘aththa in their spelling’) and half of other doctrinal terms all wrong because of the spelling shows us that this Romanization had better be avoided to prevent confusion in both the Pali and Sinhala context :anjal:


Please choose which of these four is closes to Pali as spoken by Raveena. Some choices may sound identical because of AWS Polly limitations.

1. <phoneme alphabet="ipa" ph="metta"/>.
2. <phoneme alphabet="ipa" ph="met͇t͇a"/>.
3. <phoneme alphabet="ipa" ph="meθθa"/>.
4. <phoneme alphabet="ipa" ph="meʈʈa"/>.


I am no great specialist, but I liked the third one best. The probable reason for this is that, suprisingly, there is no specific character used for the alveolar consonants in the IPA, so they are generally written identically with the dental ones. The /t͇/ character I used is from the extended IPA and it is not used widely at all.

Raveena, using the English phonological system, naturally interprets the /t/ and /t͇/ characters and the alveolar ones and pronounces them accordingly. Therefore, the closest approximation to the dental ‘t’ is for my Russian ear the interdental /θ/ as in /meθθa/.

Funnily enough, all four variants of ‘t’ are pronounced as heavily aspirated by Raveena, which, as far as I know, is not the case in Pali. Anyway, whatever, it is not the end of the world :grinning:


Very well. Raveena shall say “θ” for “t” unless there are other proposals to try. :pray:


Could you try /met̪t̪a/? The /t̪/ character is sometimes used in the IPA when there is a need to distinguish dental sounds from alveolar ones. Maybe it’s gonna work, I don’t know.


Sadlly, that produced exactly the same sound file. I think met̪t̪a is not implemented and they fell back to “t”. :pray:


By the way, I am conducting all my interactive research using the AWS Polly console. This is available at no cost with an AWS account. It is quite fascinating to poke and prod the robots and see what they utter.

I am no linguist, but I also have learned that there is a general lack of online IPA text to speech out there, so this console may be of some value. AWS Polly is currently better than Watson, which has a similar console and even more issues. In the future, I would expect Google to surpass both of these services. It will be quite the race to witness. We can also expect to tune up the SuttaCentral voices as needed. All of our custom pronounciations will be in words/voices.json


The Sinhala language uses θ for metta (‘meθθa’).

Note that pali is phonetic and the θ was written down using Sinhalese script, when it was initially transcribed on to Ola leaves.

θ = dental ත = 0DAD = ta = [t̪a]

with metta මෙත්තා,


Okay, let’s go deeper down this rabbit hole :grinning:

There are different ways of classifying consonants. One of them is their place of production, e.g. dental, alveolar, labial, etc. Another defining characteristic is their way of production: plosive, affricate, sonorant, fricative, etc.

The British /θ/ as it is taught in the video you linked is indeed a dental sound, however it is a dental fricative sound. Fricative sounds are , obviously enough, sounds that involve friction in their production, e.g. /s/, /f/, /v/, /ʒ/, and, yes, /θ/. They are radically different from the so-called plosive consonants (aka stops) in that they do not feature a single release of a blocked air stream . Good examples of plosive sounds are the Sinhala /p/, /k/ and the Sinhala dental voiceless plosive /t̪/ (it is indeed a dental voiceless plosive as you can see here).

Summing it all up, the British /θ/ and Sinhala /t̪/ have the same place of articulation but completely different modes of articulation. Other similar examples include /b/ and /w/ (here you could consider the development of ‘vv’ to /bb/ in Pali, which may be a sign that ‘v’ at some point was pronounced as /w/), /k/ and /x/ (here you make consider the phonological development in the German macken /makn̩/ > machen /maxn̩/), etc. Put even more shortly, /θ/ and /t̪/ are two different sounds.

Just in case, using approximation when speaking a foreign language is totally okay, this is a legitimate way of struggling with a foreign phonology. I do it all the time when I can :grinning:

As the Pali consonantal inventory does not even feature a voiceless dental fricative (or, for that matter, neither does the Sinhala consonantal inventory) and /θ/ and /t̪/ are different sounds, the traditional Sinhala Romanization of /metta/ as meththa is erroneous and misleading.

Anyway, compared to how the Americans butcher Russian family names such as Gurdjieff in their pronunciation, it is a merely trifling thing, but I would recommend avoiding it in the future in any possible context.


While we are discussing Sinhala pronunciations, is the change of an “a” at the end of a word into what sounds to me like an “er” another Sinhahala innovation, or is that in the Pali?
E.g. Sambuddhasa -> Sam-bud-dha-ser


I am afraid I have no idea about that. My conjecture would be that it probably is, since there is no /a/ reduction in other positions, but don’t quote me on that.


Some nice replies on this thread, thanks all!

Indeed; it certainly doesn’t stop you from becoming a Buddhist professor, for I have heard several pronounce Theravada with an opening fricative!

Excellent, thanks, that’s really handy.

On tangentially related note, the group originally behind the Mahasangiti Tipitaka have always wanted to reform the Thai pronunciation of Pali. They have a website and app promoting it.

I haven’t looked into it in detail, but I see that they are using a “corrected” phonetic Thai spelling for Pali:

Again, just to remember, Thai, Sinhala, Roman, or any other system, records Pali quite accurately, and they are fine to use, so long as you remember that the pronunciation of letters when used in Pali is not always the same as the native language. It’s easy to learn these standards if you take a little time.


I think we can agree to disagree; what is important is that there is no significant alteration to the meaning, despite a subtle shift in the sound.

with metta,