What is a Pali Grammar? The Status of the Buddha's Speech as a Grammatical Language

When and Where

Friday, April 12, 2024 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm
Zoom / McMaster
University Hall 122
McMaster University, Hamilton ON


Aleix Ruiz-Falques (Hebrew University Jerusalem, Shan State Buddhist University)


Yehan Numata Program in Buddhist Studies 2023-24

What is a Pali Grammar? The Status of the Buddha's Speech as a Grammatical Language According to Classical Pali Grammarians

The Indian Grammatical tradition is well known due to the importance of Pāṇini’s grammatical sūtra, the Aṣṭādhyāyī, hailed as one of the greatest monuments in the history of Linguistics. Buddhists were familiar with Pāṇini’s grammar, but as the teachings of the Buddha were not exclusively preserved in Sanskrit, parallel grammatical traditions developed for literary dialects or languages such as Pali, the language that vehiculates the so-called Theravāda Buddhist tradition. All Buddhist scholars in the Theravāda tradition were well-versed in grammar, but it was not until the 6th or 7th century that Pali grammars began to gain traction, following the sūtras of Pāṇini and other Sanskrit grammarians. Pali grammatical trea¬tises are now part and parcel of the ideal library in the Theravāda monastic system. In fact, classical grammars such as the Kaccāyana and its major commentaries continue to shape the way Buddhist texts are approached in countries such as Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos and Cam¬bodia. Although we call these manuals “grammars”, they are much more than that, for they are designed as instruments of textual exegesis. Their object of study is not language in general, not even Pali language as such, but the word of the Buddha as it has been preserve d in the canonical (tipiṭaka) and commentarial (aṭṭhakathā) literature. In this lecture we will explore how Pali grammarians spearheaded the medieval development of Buddhist hermeneutics by building a sort of scholastic scaffolding meant to preserve and protect the Buddha’s teachings.

ALEIX RUIZ-FALQUÉS (Barcelona, 1982) B.A. Classics (Greek and Latin) (University of Barcelona), M.A. Sanskrit (Pune University), PhD Indian Studies (Cambridge). After teaches Pali and is Head of the Department of Pali and Languages at the Shan State Buddhist University of Taunggyi, Myanmar. He is also a Khyentse Postdoctoral Fellow in Buddhist Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and teaches Pali in America through the online platform Yogic Studies. He is also serving as editor of the Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies. He is part of the editorial team of the Dhammachai Tipiṭaka Project (Thailand). Apart from working on multiple translation projects (Pali to English, Pali to Spanish), he is finalizing his first monograph Pali Variations: Optionality and Exception in Classical Pali Grammars, to be published next year at Studia Indologica Universitatis Halensis. His main area of research is the Pali grammatical literature and the Pali literature of Burma (Myanmar).




University of Toronto, McMaster University


McMaster University, Hamilton ON