Spelling Paali language in Roman characters

Some readers may wonder how I’ve been spelling Paali words and even by the way I spell my second name. I’ve been using the Velthuis method of writing Paali language using the Roman character set.

Sometimes I write in a hurry and don’t check the Paali spelling so maybe there are spelling mistakes in some previous blogs.  Sometimes I spell Paali words in the common way that doesn’t recognise diacriticals, though usually this is when I’m quoting someone else or for some common words.  In most statements on this site I’ve used the Velthuis method.

For your convenience I have cut and pasted John Bullitt’s explanation of Velthuis method from the Access to Insight website.


Representing Pali diacritics using the Velthuis method
Some books and articles on Access to Insight contain substantial amounts of Pali text. Many of them use the Velthuis method [5] to represent romanized Pali’s accented characters (diacritics) that are not part of the standard roman and ASCII alphabets. In this scheme two basic rules are observed:

  1. Long vowels (those usually typeset with a macron (bar) above them) are doubled: aa ii uu
  2. For consonants, the diacritic mark precedes the letter it affects. Thus, the retroflex (cerebral) consonants (usually typeset with a dot underneath) are: .t .th .d .dh .n .l. The pure nasal (niggahiita) m, also typeset with a dot underneath, is .m. The guttural nasal (n with a dot above) is represented as “n . The palatal nasal (n with a tilde) is ~n.

For example: paa.naatipaataa verama.nii sikkhaa-pada.m samaadiyaami and itihida.m aayasmato ko.n.da~n~nassa a~n~na-ko.n.da~n~no’tveva naama.m ahosiiti.


You can read about alternative methods for writing Paali in Roman characters at Access to Insight.

Why does MK use Velthuis?
I chose to use Velthuis method in this blog because it does not require special fonts or software. One can use the standard Roman alphabet to display Paali words.  I have found a few Paali texts that attempt to use diacritical marks such as bars over long vowels but because the fonts are not available in the browser or operating system of the computer I was using at the time, many strange characters appeared mixed in the text, making it very difficult to read or understand. Sometimes these strange characters are even encoded into PDF files and are quite distracting.  Some people who are unfamiliar with Paali pronunciation, may attempt to pronounce Paali with a short “a” sound and incorrectly say “pallee.”

Velthuis is the most fail-safe method.  I encourage everyone to become familiar with it.


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