I cracked open my Pali book today when I had some free time at work and I have to say I’m quite excited! I am now one of the privileged few in Japan who can call themselves Pali students. I may be the only person in my entire prefecture to be studying this language. I won’t go so far as to say country though. I’m sure there are some universities here that have Indian philology departments or offer a major in early Buddhism. Even so, I feel like I have some special gem that nobody else knows about.
I have two Pali textbooks that I am working from. One is the famous Introduction to Pali by A.K. Warder. For years this has been the textbook for learning Pali. Admittedly it doesn’t have much competition, so it remains to be seen if it’s really all that brilliant. It’s quite thick, pulls all of its exercises straight from the Pali Canon and has detailed linguistic explanations for everything. The other book I’m using is called Pali Primer by Lily de Silva. It’s a skinny book, very concise and full of exercises.
There are some interesting things that come up when learning an ancient dead religious language. In most foreign language classes I’ve taken, the textbook opens up with greetings and introductions. “Hello,” “My name is Cornelius,” “Nice to meet you.” Pretty standard. Check out the vocabulary list for lesson one of the Pali book:
- lay disciple
- body, substance
- warrior, noble
- thus-gone (one of the titles for the Buddha)
- god, king (honorific)
- priest, brahman
- road, way
- human being
- non-human being
- world, people, universe
- ascetic, wanderer, philosopher
- a time, occasion
It really shows you what you’re getting into, doesn’t it? Some interesting lesson one example sentences:
- A god is a non-human being.
- The son who is a lay disciple sees.
- The priest goes away.
- The god dies.
One interesting side note: the words for “human being” and “non-human being” are “manussa” and “amanussa” respectively. The A.K. Warder book says that “a-” is a negative prefix. I wonder if this is the same prefix that we find in English with word pairs such as typical/atypical and sexual/asexual. Both English and Pali are Indo-European languages, so it’s not impossible. Does anybody know the story on this?
For those who would like to follow along: