Thailand and Laos are important guardians of Buddhist scriptures, preserving in particular scriptures in the Pali language. For the writing (or transliteration) of Pali, the Thai and Lao scripts have had to be modified slightly. While the letters match the earliest assignments of Indic writing systems to Thai/Lao phonemes, pronunciation adheres to the modern local system, rather than the original Pali phonemes. For reading Pali in Thai it is perhaps enough to remember that the inherent (unwritten) vowel is /a/ instead of /o/.
This shows the usual arrangment of Pali letters. Thai is a tonal language, and assigns a tonal class to each consonant: those in red are high-class, green are middle-class, black are low-class. See the Pitch chart below for the implications of tonal class. All consonants have an inherent vowel /a/.
This shows the usual arrangment of Pali letters:
The non-final vowel /a/ is not written. For the many clusters and doubled consonants of Pali we must make use of the vowel-silencing dot phinthu.
A syllable’s tone (pitch contour) is determined by the class of the syllable’s initial consonant. The tone rules for standard spoken Thai are then evoked to supply the chant’s melody. It should be noted that a simpler chart than usual is sufficient, because in Pali closed syllables are always short. Note: long includes short-vowel syllables ending with a nasal consonant.
Consonant class: high middle low Syllable length: short long short long short long Tone: low tone rising low tone mid tone high tone mid tone
Chanting of Pali in Thailand typically engages Dorian mode; a pitch example might be:
high tone F mid tone D low tone C rising CD or CE or CF
Lao consonants and vowels for Pali
These charts include * Pali-specific letters invented by the Institut Bouddhique in 1937.Series Consonants: