What is the Pāli Language?

Pāli is the liturgical language of Theravada Buddhism. An ancient, colloquial relative of Sanskrit, Pāli benefits from a number of ambiguities and variations. A testament to Pāli’s long history, such irregularities can make Pāli tricky to decipher, but (thankfully) did little to corrupt the Pali Canon as a record of the Buddha’s teachings. While the Pāli Canon is unlikely to be the verbatim words of the Buddha, studying the Pāli Language is still as close as we can get to hearing his original voice.

Course Information

This course is an introduction to reading the Pāli Canon in its original language.


Though you need not have taken the “Level 1” Primer Course to take this class, some prior knowledge of Pāli or Sanskrit is required. This course also assumes prior comfort with the doctrinal content of the Canon as it focuses more on language acquisition than philosophical engagement.

Time Requirement

There are approximately 40 hours of lectures (depending on which section you take) and approximately as much homework.


A classic introductory textbook for reading the Pāli Canon in its original language, this reader walks the student through progressively more challenging selections, introducing and explaining the grammatical concepts and vocabulary every step of the way.


This course is taught, once again, by Bhikkhu Bodhi, but this time in two sections.

  • This version of the course was taught in 53 lectures to students who had just completed his “Primer” course.
  • If you are taking this “Level 2” course having just completed the “Level 1” course, this is likely the set of lectures you’ll want to take as it picks up exactly where the previous course left off.
  • This version of the class was taught in 34 lectures to a new group of students.
  • If you’re coming to this course having not taken “Level 1” but with prior knowledge of Pali or Sanskrit from elsewhere, this set of lectures is for you.


Note that significant homework will be assigned in this class. As the homework is the bulk of the learning for the course, please be sure to do it.

Note that there were also a number of handouts and tables distributed during the class that may be helpful to review.

Office Hours

If any questions come up for you that aren’t addressed in the lectures, I recommend posting to the SuttaCentral Discourse Forum where a community of helpful Pāli scholars will be sure to help!

Advanced Courses

Imagery in the Early Buddhist Texts
After studying the grammar of Pāli, learn the vocab in this course exploring two dozen important Pāli terms.
or feel free to check out any of our University's other fine offerings.