Thai & Lao Scripts for Writing Pali

Ian James
© March 2010

Pali language name in Thai script

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/.

Series consonants

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/.

series consonants: Thai-Pali
tail-less letters

Non-series consonants

This shows the usual arrangment of Pali letters:

non-series consonants: Thai-Pali


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.

vowels: Thai-Pali


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


punctuation: Thai-Pali

Lao consonants and vowels for Pali

These charts include * Pali-specific letters invented by the Institut Bouddhique in 1937.

Series Consonants:
series consonants: Lao-Pali
Non-series Consonants:
non-series consonants: Lao-Pali
vowels: Lao-Pali

See also: the Ariyaka script for Pali, created by King Rama IV of Siam, and my Akkhara Muni script.

big Buddha statue (photo by Saijai Thammawat)

All material on this page © Ian James.
Last modified May.19,2010