“Tipiṭaka English” Convention Adopted by Early European Scholars – Part 2

February 15, 2020;  revised July 23, 2020; August 25, 2022


1. In the previous post, we discussed the reasons for adopting a “Tipiṭaka English” convention to write Pāli words by European scholars in the 1800s. It is necessary to read that post first: “Tipiṭaka English” Convention Adopted by Early European Scholars – Part 1.”

  • As we discussed,  those early European scholars realized the importance of preserving the “Pāli sounds” as much as possible. Of course, the other requirement was to keep the corresponding English version short.
  • In that post, we discussed the adoption of “t,” “d,” and “c” to represent the “,” “,” and the “” sounds in Pāli.
  • Here we will continue that discussion. The “” (with a”dot” underneath the “t”) represents the “” sound in Pāli.
  • Then there are aspirated sounds “th“, “dh“, “ch“, and “ṭh” respectively for the “t“, “d“, “c“, and “” sounds. Some of those “aspirated words” represent “emphasized versions” of the “unaspirated words.” I will explain it below.
We Need to Be Familiar With the “Tipiṭaka English” Convention

2. As mentioned in the previous post, the above convention was enacted before 1900. Thus all Pāli documents compiled by the Pāli Text Society are consistent with this convention.

  • The Pāli texts (with the English alphabet) available on the Sutta Central website are directly from the Pāli Text Society. Those texts are accurate. For example, here is the “Dhamma­cakkap­pa­vat­ta­na Sutta (SN 56.11),” which was the first discourse delivered by the Buddha.
  • It is an excellent idea to examine that sutta (and try pronunciations of those Pāli words) with the guidelines in my two posts on the “Tipiṭaka English” Convention.
  • Most of my posts on the puredhamma.net website are consistent with the “Tipiṭaka English” Convention. 
  • Of course, as I have repeatedly pointed out, many English translations of Pāli words at the Sutta Central site are incorrect. Examples include anicca, anatta, Ānāpāna Bhāvanā, and viññāna. See, for example, “Misinterpretation of Anicca and Anatta by Early European Scholars.”
  • Now let us continue introducing the “Tipiṭaka English” convention.
Only “” Represents the “” Sound

2. The “” sound in Pāli is the “ta” sound in English, as in “Tom.” The “” sound in Pāli is ALWAYS represented by “ṭ.” Note the “dot” underneath the “t.”

  • Some examples are Paicca, paigha, paigha, pailoma, paisandahi, paipadā.
  • In the previous post, we saw that the “” sound is ALWAYS represented by “t” (without the “dot” underneath the t.)
  • The word Tipiaka is an excellent example of both sounds, the “t” and the “ṭ.” I hope you can catch the difference in the audio in #4 below.
Aspirated Versions

3. Now, consider the “aspirated versions” of those four sounds we discussed. We must remember that we are dealing with “Tipiṭaka English” and NOT “Standard English.”

  • The aspirated version accompanies a forceful expulsion of air. If you hold a thin piece of paper in front of the mouth, it should move when you make an “aspirated sound.”
  • The following video explains that for English words. But it is the same idea. Further guidance in #12 is below.
Putting Emphasis on “” Sound to Make the “” Sound

4. The “” (““) sound, when aspirated with  “ṭh,” becomes the “” sound. It is not that common to have the “ṭh” by itself. An example is ṭhapetvā, meaning “placement.”

  • In most cases, the “” sound is in a word just before the “ṭh” sound, as in aṭṭha (අට්ඨ for number 8.)
  • Here are more examples of the “” (““) AND “ṭh” (““) sounds coming together: diṭṭhi (දිට්ඨි for view), sandiṭhika (සන්දිට්ඨික for “seeing ‘san‘”), aṭṭha as in aṭṭha purisapuggalā and aṭṭhaṅgika, kammaṭṭhāna, satipaṭṭhāna.
  • In #2, we mentioned some example words with the “ṭ” sound:  Paicca, paigha, pailōma, paisandhi, paipadā.
  • Compare all those with the following words with just the “t” (““) sound: atta (අත්ත for the truth), satta (සත්ත for a living being; note that Bōdhisatta is a living being who is striving to attain the Buddhahood.)
  • Here is the pronunciation of the unaspirated paicca, paigha, pailoma, paisandhi, paipadā AND aspirated ṭhapetvā. Both aspirated and unaspirated in aṭṭha, diṭṭhi, sandiṭhika, aṭṭhaṅgika, kammaṭṭhāna, and satipaṭṭhāna. Also, Tipiaka.


Putting Emphasis on “” Sound to Make “”  Sound

5. The sound “th” is the “aspirated version” of “t” as in Samatha (සමථ in Sinhala) in Samatha Bhāvanā. The word ratha (රථ for “vehicle”) is another.

  • Here are more words with both the “t” and the “th” sounds: tathāgata (තථාගත), natthi, atthi, yathābhūta, hadaya vatthu.

6. There are a few words with both aspirated and unaspirated versions. For example, when the “atta” (අත්ත) refers to the meaning “truth,” it is (the “true-ness”) emphasized with the word “attha” (අත්ථ).

  • There are a few words like that where the meaning is emphasized with the aspirated version. We will discuss that with examples from the Tipiṭaka later on. Two more such words are addressed in #8 below.
  • Many other words do not have such “emphasized” and “non-emphasized” versions. Here are some examples with ONLY the “th” sound: vithi, Itthi, Samatha, Thēro. For example, there are no words such as viti, Itti, Samata, or Tēro.
  • Here is the pronunciation of Samatha, ratha, tathāgata, natthi, atthi, yathābhūta, hadaya vatthu, vithi, Itthi, Samatha, Thēro.
Putting Emphasis on “” Sound to Make the “” Sound

7. The sound “dh” is the “aspirated version” of “d” as in Dhamma (ධම්ම). More examples of words with the “dh” sound:  Dhamma, adhamma, dhātu, gandha, gandhabba, middha, nirōdha, saddhā, andha, sandhi, sādhu, paṭisandhi, samādhi.

  • Both the unaspirated and the aspirated sounds are in words, Dhammapada (ධම්මපද  in Sinhala) and Buddha (බුද්ධ), i.e., both the dh and d sounds appear. More examples: passaddhi, iddhi, middha.
  • Here is the pronunciation of Dhamma, adhamma, dhātu, gandha, gandhabba, middha, nirōdha, saddhā, andha, sandhi, sādhu, paṭisandhi, samādhi, Dhammapada, Buddha, passaddhi, iddhi, middha.
Putting Emphasis on “” Sound to Make the “”  Sound

8. The sound “ch” (““) is the “aspirated version” of “c” (““) as in chanda (න්ද) meaning “desire.” The unaspirated is in calana (ලන), meaning “movement.”

  • Most Pāli words with the “ch” sound also have the “c” sound coming first. Some examples are,  iccha, vicikicchā, appiccha (appa iccha), macchariya, micchā, micchācāra, micchāvācā, pariccheda, gacchati, uccheda.
  • Two more critical Pāli words have the aspirated version emphasizing the meaning of the unaspirated version, just like in the case of atta/attha discussed above in #6.
  • Those two are icca/iccha (ඉච්ච/ඉච්ඡ) and anicca/aniccha (අනිච්ච/අනිච්ඡ).  The two aspirated words emphasize the meanings of unaspirated words. We will discuss that in the next post.
  • Here is the pronunciation of chanda, calana, iccha, vicikicchā, appiccha, macchariya, micchā, micchācāra, micchāvācā, pariccheda, gacchati, uccheda, icca, iccha, anicca, aniccha.
Connection to Key Concepts in Buddha Dhamma

9. Over the past year, I have realized that many misconceptions could be easily avoided by looking at a few Pāli words and their inherent meanings.

  • For example, the Pāli word atta has two different meanings. Furthermore, the word attha emphasizes just one of those two meanings.
  • Similarly, the meanings of the words icca and anicca become emphasized in iccha and aniccha.
  • See “Icca, Nicca, Anicca – Important Connections.”
Many of Posts at Puredhamma.net May Not be Up To the “Tipiṭaka English” Convention

10. I gradually became aware of this issue over the past several months. During that time, I have progressively followed the above rules. I will stick to this convention in future posts and gradually revise old posts to be compatible. That will take some time.

  • All Pāli literature on the Sutta Central website is compatible with the “Tipiṭaka English” convention.
  • Once you select a sutta, you can access translations to several languages using the “hamburger icon” on the top left.
  • Of course, all translations there have errors, especially with keywords like anicca, anatta, Ānāpāna Bhāvanā, and viññāna.
Singular to Plural in Pāli

11. The following issue is somewhat unrelated, and many people could be aware of it. But I would mention it here since it is essential to know.

  • Many Pāli nouns ending in “short a (/ə/)” are converted to plural by replacing that “short a” with a “long a” or ā.
  • For example, Deva, Brahma, sutta, citta, apāya, gandhabba, jhāna are singular and the corresponding plural are Devā, Brahmā, suttā, cittā, apāyā, gandhabbā, jhānā.
  • Finally, Pāli Glossary pages with pronunciation are available at “Tables and Summaries.”
Pali Alphabet with Illustrations & subtitles

12. The following video could be very useful in learning the Pāli alphabet (in English.) Moreover, it provides excellent instructions on pronunciation.

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