What is the Pāli Language?

The Pāli Language is the simplified form of Sanskrit that Theravada Buddhism uses as its liturgical language. It is the only Indic language to preserve a large corpus of Early Buddhist Texts, so studying Pāli (and the Suttas preserved in it) brings us as close as possible to how the historic Buddha taught.

Pāli is not a tonal language and (like Sanskrit) is inflected, meaning that the nouns change suffixes depending on their role in the sentence. This course will introduce those various roles (called “cases”) and give a lot of practice deciphering them.

Course Outline

This course doesn’t assume any prior knowledge of linguistics or classical languages, and so serves as a suitable introduction for anyone. Note that the examples will not be drawn directly from the Pāli Canon.

Textbook

An excellent primer introducing, step-by-step, the basic grammatical concepts essential to understanding the Pāli language.

This Primer makes its concepts approachable and fun, and sets the student up well for studying more advanced textbooks, such as Warder or Duroiselle, later. You can get the book’s answer key here.

Lectures

Bhikkhu Bodhi will guide us through DeSilva in 26, 2-hour lectures.

In addition to the textbook, there are a number of handouts that Bhikkhu Bodhi provided and will reference in his lectures, so be sure to download those too.

Note that significant homework will assigned between each lecture. As these assignments are the bulk of the learning for the course, please be sure to do them.

Office Hours

If any questions come up for you that aren’t addressed in the lectures, I recommend posting to the SuttaCentral Discourse Forum where a community of helpful Pāli scholars will be sure to answer!

Advanced Courses

Imagery in the Early Buddhist Texts
After studying the grammar of Pāli, learn the vocab in this course exploring two dozen important Pāli terms.
The Pāli Language: Level 2
Continue learning the Pāli Language with Bhikkhu Bodhi, in this follow up course.
or feel free to check out any of our University's other fine offerings.