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Frozen Sandhi, Flowing Sound: Permanent Euphonic Ligatures and the Idea of Text in Classical Pali Grammars


Pali classical grammars reflect a specific idea of what Pali Buddhist texts are. According to this traditional idea, texts are mainly conceived as sound and therefore the initial portions of every grammar deal with sound and sound ligature or sandhi. Sandhi in Pali does not work as systematically as it does in Sanskrit and therefore Pali grammarians have struggled with the optionality of many of their rules on sound ligature. Unlike modern linguists, however, they identify certain patterns of fixed or frozen sandhis that are often associated to the formulas of Pali prose. This paper focuses on these specific frozen sandhis in Pali prose and their connection to the nature of Pali literature broadly. The main working hypothesis is the following: in the same way that certain frozen sandhis in verse obey metrical patterns, frozen sandhis in prose suggest that Pali speech-sounds are subordinated to formulaic rhythmic structures.

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  1. For an overview of the Kaccāyana literature and its influence in the history of Pali scholarship see Franke (1902), von Hinüber (1983), Deokar (2008, p. 7), Pind (2012), Ruiz-Falqués (2018), Gornall and Gunasena (2018).

  2. My account of the living grammatical tradition is based on my personal experience in Burma. It does not intend to represent a pan-theravadin practice, but simply to illustrate the importance of oral learning in present-day Buddhist education systems.

  3. See Sadd 1105 (conspectus terminorum, § 1.1.), Gornall (2014), Ruiz-Falqués (2017). In the Burmese language, sadda (pronounced thaddā) has become the local word for “grammar”, and the Kaccāyana Pali grammar is popularly known as saddā-krīḥ “great grammar”.

  4. Wijeratne and Gethin (2007, p. 226), Ruiz-Falqués (2017, p. 36).

  5. For this information I thank Ven. U Sundara, Sitagu International Buddhist Academy, Sagaing; Ven. U Koṇḍaññakitti, PhD candidate, Shan State Buddhist University (SSBU), Taunggyi; Ven. Sao Uttamasārālaṅkāra, MA student, SSBU; Ven. U Viriyādhika, MA graduate from SSBU, Taunggyi. For the night lessons, cf. Ven. U Sīlānanda Sayadaw’s Handbook of Abhidhamma Studies (Sīlānanda 2012, p. 24): “Then there are what are called night lessons. They are found only in Burma. Some books of Abhidhamma have to be learned at night. That means we learn it during the day. At night we go to the teacher and recite what we learned during the day. The teacher explains difficult passages. Or if we have made mistakes, he may correct them. Actually we have to learn from the teacher without lights.”

  6. Kacc-v 1,13–14. For different interpretations of this passage, see Pind (1996, p. 69), Gornall (2014, p. 513), Ruiz-Falqués (2021b, p. 386).

  7. Probably written in Pagan (Burma) around the 12th century ce, cf. Gornall and Ruiz-Falqués (2019, p. 427).

  8. Ruiz-Falqués (2021b, p. 376).

  9. Sadd 603,19–21; Warder (1967, p. 44).

  10. Gornall (2020, p. 54).

  11. Rūp § 38; see also Sadd 1108 (conspectus terminorum §

  12. Oberlies (2019, p. 175): “A historical outline of sandhi operations is extremely difficult, particularly since our texts, as they are transmitted, show a great number of Sanskritic sandhis which have been adopted from Sanskrit texts instead of genuine Middle Indic ones. Hence for practical reasons the following account is purely descriptive and (as a rule) synchronic”.

  13. Pind (2004, p. 508); see also von Hinüber (1982, p. 138): “These few examples may be sufficient here to show the highly artificial character of a part of the Pāli saṃdhi, which exists side by side with many rather archaic saṃdhi-combinations (cf. H. Bechert: Vokalkurzung vor Sandhikonsonant, MSS 6, 1955, 7–26). Of course, the saṃdhi in Pāli as a whole rather urgently deserves a comprehensive study”.

  14. Oberlies (2019, p. 175 n.5).

  15. von Hinüber (2001, p. 203).

  16. Oberlies (2019, p. 175), echoing Jacobi (1913, p. 211): “Zunächst sei daran erinnert, dass der Sandhi im Pāli und Prakrit arbiträr ist” (“First of all, let it be remembered that Sandhi in Pali and Prakrit is arbitrary”); see also Childers (1879, p. 100); see also Geiger (2000, p. 60): “Pāli is not always consistent”—meaning, I think, that it does not obey strict rules.

  17. Childers (1879, p. 100): “In Sanskrit sandhi is imperative, in Pali it is to a great extent optional: between separate words it takes place but seldom, and even in compounds hiatus occurs. Again, while sandhi is regular and uniform in Sanskrit, in Pali it is very irregular. For example, while in Sanskrit na upeti must always become nopeti, in Pali it might become nopeti, or n’ upeti, or nūpeti, or remain na upeti without sandhi change taking place.”

  18. The word sandhi does not appear in Pāṇini’s Aṣṭādhyāyī or Yāska’s Nirukta, where they use saṃhitā, defined as close juxtaposition of phonemes: paraḥ sannikarṣaḥ saṃhitā in P 1.4.109 (see Ciotti 2019, p. 2) and understood as the continuous text of the Ṛgveda in Nir I 17 (I thank the anonymous reviewer for this information); for the early Brahmanical background of the term see Visigalli (2013), Chapter II: Saṃhitā. The first grammatical text to use it are the Prātiśākhyas, in the sanse of “the modification of phonemes caused by a close juxtaposition” (Deokar 2008, p. 133). Sandhi is considered the continuity of sound itself, and only by extension the grammatical rules related to the phenomenon of ligature are also called sandhi (Deokar 2008, p. 133).

  19. Vin II 67 ff., cf. (Deokar 2008, p. 110).

  20. The Kaccāyana states that in this case, “vowels remain natural (pakati) before a consonant” and “sometimes before a vowel [too]”. Kacc § 23 sarā pakati byañjane; Mogg § 28 na dve vā. pubbaparasarā dve pi vā kvaci na lupyante, latā iva, lateva, latā ’va. Note that these are not canonical examples but a theoretical model of optionality. For the absence of sandhi (pakatisandhi) as an old feature of Pali vs. Classical Sanskrit, cf. Windisch (1893).

  21. About 120 of the 675 rules of the Kaccāyana grammar are directly controlled by option markers. These markers frequently open sub-domains with more rules under them, cf. Ruiz-Falqués (2021c). To these we could add many more rules that provide variation without using option markers, e.g. Kacc § 484 providing, without option markers, the alternative forms dammi “I give” and damma “we give” for dadāmi/demi and dadāma/dema respectively. For a historical and intellectual context of Rūpasiddhi and Bālāvatāra, cf. Gornall and Gunasena (2018) and Gornall (2020).

  22. Probably inspired by the Kāśikāvṛtti or by the early Kātantra commentaries, cf. Ruiz-Falqués (2021a).

  23. Rūp 9,4. The same principle is developed in the learned 15th-century commentary by Saddhammajotipāla, the Suttaniddesa (cf. Kacc-nidd 11,8–14).

  24. = Kacc § 13 = Sadd § 31. For a more detailed description of option markers in the Kaccāyana grammatical tradition, see Ruiz-Falqués (2021a, c). This rule follows a more general principle, Kacc § 12 sarā sare lopaṃ (= Rūp § 13 Sadd § 30) “vowels are elided before a vowel”, cf. Allen (1972, p. 17): “one may speak of the word-final position in Sanskrit as being relatively ‘weak’.”

  25. Rūp 9,8 cakkhundriyam iti niccaṃ.

  26. Cf. Skt. pañcendriya, which in Pali would give pañcindriya due to the reduction of e in a closed syllable; and Skt. cakṣvāyatana, which in Pali would involve both assimilation kṣ > kkh and simplification of the consonantal group to two consonants, although cakkhvāyataṃ has a few occurrences in Se, always in the formula cakkhvāyatanaṃ sotāyatanaṃ, etc., e.g. D III 255, 303, 337; M III 400, 509; S II 4.

  27. Rūp 9,19–20:

    avaṇṇato saro’dānītīvevādiṃ vinā paro;

    na luppat’ aññato dīgho āsevādivivajjito.

  28. Canonical occurrences of -a/-ā i-/ī- with pakatisandhi exist, although they are rare: A Be I 571 ettha idāni, and yassidāni is found in a few cases in the Budsir Thai electronic text. Vin I 131: yassidāni bhante bhagavā; Vin II 201: yassidāni kālaṃ maññasīti; M II 396 yassidāni raṭṭhapāla, with v.l. from Ee yassa dāni tvaṃ.

  29. This is what Rūp-ṭ (15,5) states, glossing the word aññato as aññasmā asarūpabhūtā ivaṇṇādito “after another non-homorganic, namely i/ī, etc.”. Here the ādi indicates first position of a list. Since the list of vowels is a ā i ī u ū e o, I understand that i/ī, etc. means all vowels except the ones before i.

  30. After re-examining the passage, I believe that my previous publication (Ruiz-Falqués 2021a, p. 237) offers a wrong interpretation of the compound āsevavivajjito, for this word does not refer to the example “āsi eva, and so forth”, but to the words “āsi, eva, and so forth” (Rūp-ṭ 15,6 āsi eva iccādivivajjito).

  31. Rūp 9,9–12.

  32. For the concept of “fossilization” (Versteinerung), cf. von Hinüber (2001, § 209).

  33. Windisch (1893, p. 233) posits that sandhis such as dhīratthu or punadeva are not simply errors from dhīg atthu and punar eva, but new sandhis after a period in which the final consonant of dhik and punar had already disappeared, and fill-up consonants were added, by analogy with historical sandhis, to bridge the hiatus.

  34. I refer to the discussion found in two other papers of this same issue of this journal on the idea of text in Buddhism, cf. Allon (2022, p. 3): “Early Buddhist texts, whether prose, verse or mixed prose and verse, are very much textual or literary artifices. (...) They are highly stylized, formally structured, extremely formulaic and repetitive, carefully crafted constructs, at least as we have them”; in his contribution to this volume, Shulman (2021: 2) develops the theory of the “play of formulas”, which posits that “[Buddhist] discourses can be seen as legitimate combinations of formulas, shaping texts out of formulas much like children may create different buildings with the same blocks or Legos.”

  35. The sporadic reading ten’ūpa is a clerical error.

  36. Jacobi (1913, p. 217).

  37. For other studies related to rhythmic effects in Pali verse and prose see Jacobi (1885), Edgerton (1946), Smith (1950), Caillat (1970), Bechert (1988), Insler (1994), Allon (1997).

  38. Allon (1997, p. 244).

  39. Warder (1967, p. 51).

  40. Warder (1967, p. 207).

  41. Kacc § 27 = Rūp § 39 lopañ ca tatrākāro, understands that -o is elided and -a becomes its replacement.

  42. Sadd § 187; Warder (1967, p. 49).

  43. A II 24,19–22 = Ap 53,527,12–13.

  44. E.g. S IV 195,19ff.

  45. Warder (1967, p. 1), Alsdorf (1967, p. 5) ff.

  46. Or even kvāttho, cf. Norman (2007, p. 90): “Sn 961 kvattho (? read kvāttho)”.

  47. For the foundations on Middle Indic samprasāraṇa in this argument, see Norman (1958).

  48. Norman (1988, p. 91) [1992: 221]: “I would suggest that the scribes, particularly those who had some knowledge of Sanskrit, thought that this type of sandhi was incorrect, and they then began to ‘restore’ something which more closely resembled Sanskrit sandhi. The method they adopted was not a genuine sandhi system, following the Sanskrit pattern precisely, but was rather a non-historic representation which gave some indication of the vowel which had been elided”.

  49. Another example of how the approach to a certain problem in Pali may affect the solution is the disagreement over the so-called ablatives ending in -aṃ, postulated by Heinrich Lüders (1954: 138 ff.). Lüders solves the problem by resorting to Morphophonemics, while others, e.g. Smith and Pind, maintain that it on the basis of Phonology: the nasalisation of -ā “which occurs sporadically in Pāli verse literature” (Pind 2004: 509). Pind (2004) also proves the relevance of Sidney Allen’s studies (Allen 1953 & 1972) in the analysis of Pali Phonetics.

  50. Wynne (2013, p. 137).

  51. For a discussion on the so-called oldest Pāli palm-leaf manuscript, see von Hinüber (1991) and Norman (1993b).

  52. Wynne (2013, p. 141): “We can therefore suppose, as a working hypothesis but with considerable confidence, that the redaction to which all these ancient fragments and modern editions belong, is the mūla-text fixed in Sri Lanka in the first few centuries AD, following the writing down of the Tipiṭaka in the Ālu-vihāra in the first century BC. A corrected version of this recension, i.e. a reconstruction of the text known to Buddhaghosa in the fifth century AD, should therefore be possible.”

  53. Cf. Norman 1992: 103.

  54. See, however, Veidlinger (2007). Veidlinger argues that memory and orality could have played a major role in the transmission of the written canonical literature in Southeast Asia.


Be :

Burmese edition

Ce :

Sinhalese (Ceylonese) edition

Ee :

European edition























Se :

Thai (Siamese) edition


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Ruiz-Falqués, A. Frozen Sandhi, Flowing Sound: Permanent Euphonic Ligatures and the Idea of Text in Classical Pali Grammars. J Indian Philos (2022).

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  • Pali
  • Sandhi
  • Text
  • Sound
  • Grammar
  • Vyākaraṇa
  • Formula
  • Prosody