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Pali vs. English - Dhamma Wheel

Pali vs. English

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
chownah
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Pali vs. English

Postby chownah » Wed Aug 17, 2011 3:09 am

My view is that English is a very expressive language. I think that any idea which can be expressed in Pali can also be expressed in English. If people think this is incorrect then I would like to hear reasons why they think that English is not up to the task.

This idea for this topic is from another thread where people are saying how using Pali is better and developing English to be just as effective as Pali is not possible....or would take generations.
chownah

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tiltbillings
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Re: Pali vs. English

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Aug 17, 2011 3:18 am


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Re: Pali vs. English

Postby Reductor » Wed Aug 17, 2011 3:29 am

Or Dukkha
Or dhamma

Smarter people than me have struggled long and hard to translate pali to english with minimal distortion. Thats minimal. There is always some.
Last edited by Reductor on Wed Aug 17, 2011 3:30 am, edited 1 time in total.

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tiltbillings
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Re: Pali vs. English

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Aug 17, 2011 3:30 am


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tiltbillings
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Re: Pali vs. English

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Aug 17, 2011 3:33 am


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David N. Snyder
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Re: Pali vs. English

Postby David N. Snyder » Wed Aug 17, 2011 3:36 am

Nibbana

Any word in English or otherwise would be a travesty. Even any of the synonyms (SN 43) would be inappropriate if mentioned by itself:

Thirty-three synonyms for Nibbana:

The Unconditioned
The destruction of lust, hate, delusion
The Uninclined
The taintless
The truth
The other shore
The subtle
The very difficult to see
The unaging
The stable
The undisintegrating
The unmanifest
The unproliferated
The peaceful
The deathless
The sublime
The auspicious
The secure
The destruction of craving
The wonderful
The amazing
The unailing
The unailing state
The unafflicted
Dispassion
Purity
Freedom
Non attachment
The island
The shelter
The asylum
The refuge
The destination and the path leading to the destination
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kirk5a
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Re: Pali vs. English

Postby kirk5a » Wed Aug 17, 2011 3:41 am

I have the feeling that native speakers would not have been puzzled by these terms. My guess is the Buddha used them because they were clear to the listener, not requiring lengthy explication for a single word. If the teachings are going to be comprehensible in English and other languages, my feeling is that an acceptable English translation can and should be used. The practice of sprinkling Pali words everywhere in an English explanation doesn't lead to clarity, it just means more questions. It becomes gobbledygook.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gobbledygook
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230

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Re: Pali vs. English

Postby Kenshou » Wed Aug 17, 2011 3:43 am

I think it's hard to say that one language is more expressive than another. But they often do the expressing in different ways.

Pali is able to jam in more meaning per word due to the nature of it's grammar, inflecting/delcining words the words themselves rather than English, which relies more on word order and syntax. So, it takes more words to say in English what is meant in the Pali, which can be awkward to translate, resulting in a lot of different potential English phrasings of the Pali. English has it's own nuances but since we're not translating from English to Pali we don't have to deal with them. English is as effective as Pali in it's own territory, but it functions differently, resulting in some tension when trying to go between the two. And the cultural and temporal gap between them just makes it worse.

Could have been worse though, if the Buddha had been an Aztec or something we would be totally out of luck.

chownah
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Re: Pali vs. English

Postby chownah » Wed Aug 17, 2011 4:42 am

I think that Tiltbillings has shown that the words dhamma and sankhara have many different meanings and shades of meanings....I think this is true in English and it is true in Pali....if there is need to distinguish between meanings in English then there is need to distiguish between meanings in Pali........the fact that the words dhamma and sankhara have many meanings and shades of meanings does not show that English is not up to the task of conveying their meaning....it just means that these two words are multifaceted and I think this is true in Pali as well as in English. I'm pretty sure that a definition for dhamma in Pali which included all the subtleties of meaning and context as in the example above would be ponderously long as well.

chownah

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Re: Pali vs. English

Postby chownah » Wed Aug 17, 2011 4:55 am


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Re: Pali vs. English

Postby Prasadachitta » Wed Aug 17, 2011 4:56 am

"Beautifully taught is the Lord's Dhamma, immediately apparent, timeless, of the nature of a personal invitation, progressive, to be attained by the wise, each for himself." Anguttara Nikaya V.332

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Prasadachitta
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Re: Pali vs. English

Postby Prasadachitta » Wed Aug 17, 2011 4:59 am

"Beautifully taught is the Lord's Dhamma, immediately apparent, timeless, of the nature of a personal invitation, progressive, to be attained by the wise, each for himself." Anguttara Nikaya V.332

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tiltbillings
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Re: Pali vs. English

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Aug 17, 2011 5:21 am


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Kim OHara
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Re: Pali vs. English

Postby Kim OHara » Wed Aug 17, 2011 5:37 am

Hello, everyone,
We have had this discussion before - sorry I haven't the time now to find the old thread, but I will say again what I said then:

If we use a word which means nothing at all to the listener, we have failed to communicate. If we use, instead, a word which is close to the meaning we want and is understood by the listener, we have communicated at least part of our meaning.
Examples: (1) dukkha / suffering; (2) sesquipedalian /long
(Note that it doesn't matter whether the obscure word is Pali or English.)

People learn the meaning of an unfamiliar word by having it explained in words they already understand, and then (usually) by seeing it often and in a variety of contexts.
Again, it doesn't matter whether the new word is Pali or English.

If a foreign word is used often enough in English, it becomes naturalised - an English word, in fact. That happens most often when English doesn't already have a word for the idea. Sometimes it retains its original meaning, sometimes the meaning changes a bit - but the meaning of every word changes gradually, so maybe that's not an issue.

Different communities and groups of English speakers have their own vocabularies. English-speaking Buddhists are well on the way to naturalising 'dukkha', 'nibbana', 'sutta' and other Pali terms (and their Sanskrit equivalents). You could even say that knowing those words is a sign of membership of the group. In that case, using them within the group is not problematic, but using them to non-members will result in communication failure.

It all becomes a matter of using the most appropriate word for the situation, then, doesn't it?

:namaste:
Kim

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ground
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Re: Pali vs. English

Postby ground » Wed Aug 17, 2011 7:04 am


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tiltbillings
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Re: Pali vs. English

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Aug 17, 2011 7:42 am


PeterB
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Re: Pali vs. English

Postby PeterB » Wed Aug 17, 2011 8:00 am

I seldom read books anymore.... from a position of reading three or four Dhamma books every couple of weeks I now dont read much at all.
Not an inverse boast . Just a fact.
There is however a book I would like to recommend. It is not in fact by a Buddhist. Its by an English convert to Sufism,
Its called " Ancient Myths And Modern Superstitions " its by Martin Lings.
It covers a number of topics , the one pertinent to this discussion is an examination of the way that ancient languages evolved to represent as closely as possible certain subtle mind states and realisations.
That just as modern languages evolved in post Industrial Revolution times to be a vehicle for technology, just so in ancient times in certain cultures language evolved to be a vehicle to ever more subtle mind states.
They are the meta languages. Specifically they are Nested Metalanguages. Pali is one such. Sanskrit is another.
Lings reverses his point to demonstrate what happens if you try to use a ancient metalanguage to describe a technological component.
Basically you end up with a compound word of dozens of syllables. To represent something like " crankshaft "... :smile:
In the same way as Tilt has demonstrated above to represent a single concept like " dukkha" cannot be done in English without literally dozens of qualifiers each of which conveys just one aspect of ....dukkha.
Ladies and gentlemen it is far more effective to learn a little Pali ( or Sanskrit if that is your fancy ) than to embark on a futile attempt to squeeze subtle concepts into a linguistic form that has evolved for a different purpose.
That is as futile as teaching a rat to peck.
Last edited by PeterB on Wed Aug 17, 2011 9:30 am, edited 1 time in total.

PeterB
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Re: Pali vs. English

Postby PeterB » Wed Aug 17, 2011 8:09 am

In the context of the is thread it is perhaps worth mentioning that although the Forest Monks sit light to their learning they have collectively a depth knowledge of Pali. I dont know the current situation st Chithurst but they have had courses in advanced Pali sudies for the Bhikkhus.

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Re: Pali vs. English

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Aug 17, 2011 9:33 am

"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

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tiltbillings
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Re: Pali vs. English

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Aug 17, 2011 9:46 am



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