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Department of the Study of Religions

Basic Pali

Course Code:
Unit value:
Full unit
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3

This course offers a basic introduction to Pāli, the Indic language closely related to Sanskrit, employed by Theravāda Buddhist communities in South and Southeast Asia, for over 2000 years, to transmit Buddhist scriptures and as a language of literature and scholarship.
This course aims at providing students with a comprehensive treatment of the grammar, syntax, and usage of Pāli, in order to allow them, by the end of the year, to read independently simple Pāli texts, and to pursue more advanced studies in Pāli or Buddhist literature.
Students will, from the outset, be exposed to canonical texts, in order to get a taste of Buddhist literature in Pāli. Grammar and language patterns will be discussed in relation to the readings, with regular sessions recapitulating in systematic fashion key linguistic features.
As a means to equip students with a broader knowledge of Buddhist literature, the course will also include discussions on the transmission of Buddhist scriptures in South and Southeast Asia, and an introduction to the variety of Middle Indic languages used, along with Pāli, by Buddhist communities of South Asia (especially Gāndhārī and the so-called Buddhist-Hybrid-Sanskrit).


No prior knowledge of the language is required. 

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

By the end of the course a student should be able to demonstrate:

  • a clear understanding of basic Pāli grammar and syntax
  • knowledge and understanding of essential Pāli vocabulary
  • the ability to understand simple passages from the Pāli canon, with the help of a dictionary
  • skills in the interpretation of primary textual sources
  • a sound understanding of the place of Pāli texts within the broader framework of Buddhist literature from South and Southeast Asia


Total of 22 weeks teaching with 3 hours classroom contact per week.

Method of assessment

One 2 500 words essay (30%), two in-class tests (15% each); one two-hour exam (40%).

Suggested reading

  • Gair, James W. and W. S. Karunatillake. A New Course in Reading Pali: Entering the Word of the Buddha. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1998.

  • Collins, Steven. A Pali Grammar for Students. Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 2006.
  • von Hinüber, Oskar. A Handbook of Pāli Literature. Berlin & New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1996.

A more extended reading list will be made available to students at the beginning of the course.