Is the Language of the Pali Canon a Creation of Grammarians?

Colloquium | March 16 | 5 p.m. | 370 Dwinelle Hall

Speaker/Performer:  Aleix Ruiz Falques, Khyentse Postdoctoral Fellow, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Sponsor:  Center for Buddhist Studies

The Pali Tipiṭaka or Pali Canon is considered to be the largest collection of Early Buddhist Texts in an Indic language, known as Pali. Pali is a Middle Indic dialect, but the Pali Texts are literary compositions, and therefore Pali is considered to be an artificial language, not a colloquial one. This means that our Pali texts are probably not a faithful reproduction of the Buddha’s words. The question, however, remains: what do we mean by artificial language (Kunstsprache)? Dialectal variation within Pali texts and other phonetic peculiarities indicate that Pali is not a «natural» language. Some scholars have also endorsed the view that the Pali texts we have received are heavily influenced by editorial interventions. At times it is difficult to determine whether a feature of Pali language is due to phonetic evolution or to editorial intervention (the heavy hand of a scribe/editor who knew Sanskrit…). These interventions are supposedly based on medieval Pali grammatical scholarship, highly influenced by Sanskrit grammatical knowledge. In this lecture I will problematize this issue and I will show a few examples of Pali grammatical theory and philological practice in Medieval and Early Modern Burma. I will argue that Early Buddhists Texts of the Pali canon have been transmitted and preserved up to our day thanks, and not despite, the grammarians.

Event Contact:  CA,, 5106435104

Access Coordinator:  Sanjyot Mehendale,,  510-643-5104

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