Pronunciation of Brahma

L.S. Cousins L.S.Cousins at
Fri Apr 25 08:31:46 UTC 1997

Madhav Deshpande writes:

>	While the Pali orthography keeps alive the cluster -hma- in words
>like, the inversion is operative in words like guyha < Skt.
>guhya; mayham and tuyham < mahyam and tubhya.

It is likely that cases like are special, learned forms. They
most probably became current when the texts of the Pali Canon were first
put to writing, not earlier. Indeed they may only have arisen later (even
possibly much later) as a result of the scribal tendency towards slight
Sanskritization of Pali. We can say that metathesis is the normal
development for Pali of h in combination with a following nasal.

> The pronunciation of the
>word as assumed by the Pali authors was in all probability
>something like B(r), as suggested by the folk etymology of the
>word as baah(ita-paapa-dha)mma.  The folk etymology seems to assume the
>sequence of baah followed by mma.

But at Sn v. 519 we have only baahetvaa sabbapaapakaani without the
presence of dhamma. So we can only assume that the beginning was some form
such as baah-. Since this well-known explanatory wordplay was current in
various schools of Buddhism, we do not know which Middle Indian dialect it
would have been composed in. Metrical considerations make it clear that
more developed forms were current in the spoken language behind the written
forms of the Pali text as we have it.

L.S. Cousins


Email: L.S.Cousins at

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