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Do you know about the etymology of the Pāḷi word “Pāḷi”, how it breaks up and from what root it is formed etc.? And can you recall any more or less lengthy scholarly or otherwise discussions to which you could kindly refer me to? I know it is a Dravidian loanword, but I remember having came across some papers or books trying to elaborating on it also from a standpoint of Pāḷi philology. It would be very grateful if possible give ways to find out more about the significance of the word and it's meaning.


In a comment Samana Johann linked to this answer -- Pāli Etymology Question -- which suggests (with references) that the etymology of the word is related to its role in preserving the Dhamma ... for example, “dam”, “dike”, “bridge”; or “to recite”; or “protecting”.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – ChrisW May 5 at 14:12
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According to British philologist and Professor Emeritus of Indian Studies at Cambridge University, Kenneth Roy Norman, Pali was mistakenly made to be the name of the language of the Canon. He explains how, below. He also links it to the Canon.

From "The Pāḷi Language and the Theravādin Tradition" (1983) by Kenneth Roy Norman:

The dialect of Middle Indo-Aryan which is found in the texts of the Theravadin Buddhists and usually called "Pali" by European scholars is nowhere so called in the Theravadin canon. The word pāli is found in the chronicles and the commentaries upon the canon, but there it has the meaning "canon" and is used in the sense of a canonical text or phrase as opposed to the commentary (aṭṭhakathā) upon it. This usage is made clear by the fact that the word pāli sometimes alternates with tanti.

It would seem that the name "Pali" is based upon a misunderstanding of the compound pāli-bhāsā "language of the canon", where the word pāli was taken to stand for the name of a particular bhāsā, as a result of which the word was applied to the language of both canon and commentaries. There is evidence that this misunderstanding occurred several centuries ago.

According to Bhikkhu Bodhi (from here - taken from "In the Buddha's Words" (2005), Wisdom Publications, page 10):

Scholars regard this language (Pali) as a hybrid showing features of several Prakrit dialects used around the third century BCE, subjected to a partial process of Sanskritization. While the language is not identical to what Buddha himself would have spoken, it belongs to the same broad language family as those he might have used and originates from the same conceptual matrix. This language thus reflects the thought-world that the Buddha inherited from the wider Indian culture into which he was born, so that its words capture the subtle nuances of that thought-world.

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