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Syllables and Stress

I have received a couple of request now for information about accent or stress in Pali pronunciation. This is a poorly covered area - and I have to add I'm not an expert. But from reading mainly Sanskrit guides and guides to Pali Prosody (poetry & metre) I think there are a few things to be aware of.

First, Pali tends towards time duration rather than accent or stress. So in pronunciation, a short vowel is half the length of a long vowel. Now, Vedic Sanskrit has a musical 'pitch accent' that I believe did not transfer to Pali.

Heavy & Light syllables in Pali

But there are also heavy & light syllables in Pali. So lets talk syllables.
In Paḷi, a syllable consists of:
  • a vowel alone, v
  • or a consonant followed by a vowel. C+v
So syllables tend to break between a vowel & consonant, v-Cv,  for example:
e-vaṃ  me  su-taṃ
e-kaṃ  sa-ma-yaṃ  bha-ga-vā
sā-vat-thi-yaṃ  vi-ha-ra-ti  je-ta-va-ne

But notice not always, as in the last line...  Ānandajoti gives the following two rules:
  1. a syllable followed by another vowel or by a single consonant is divided after the vowel, e.g. mā-tā-pi-tu-u-paṭ-ṭhā-naṁ, vi-ha-ra-ti
  2. a syllable followed by a double consonant is divided after the first consonant, e.g. añ-ña-ta-rā, sā-vat-thi-yaṁ
For more examples see Ānandajoti's syllable guide...

Now a syllable is heavy if the vowel is long, or followed by a consonant cluster or anusvāra:
  • long vowel [ā, ī, ū, e, o],
  • [a, i, u] + ṃ,
  • or  [a, i, u] + CC
And likewise, a syllable is short if it contains a short vowel [a, i, u] not followed by a consonant cluster or anusvāra.
  • short vowel [a, i, u],
  • [e, o] + ṃ,
  • or  [e, o] + CC

See Warder pg357. And Ānandajoti's Prosody guide Sec 1.1...

Heavy syllables are emphasized/stressed (drawing out the long vowels), while one passes rapidly over light ones. - You'll find more information in articles on Prosody generally.
Also see 'An Introductory Reader and Grammar' By Rune E. A. Johansson pg14.

Stress Accent

Finally, there is also  'stress accent' where stress is placed on the last heavy syllable of the word, but not the last syllable itself. So stress tend to fall on the penultimate syllable (if heavy) or one further back.

For a discussion on this subject see:

I hope this is of some help ;-)

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