One: Scansion and Related Matters

 

1.1 Scansion

In analysing Pāḷi verse a syllable is considered to be light or heavy metrically. Through the alternation of light and heavy syllables it is possible to build up rhythmic structures just as it is in music.

In order to define what is a light syllable and what is a heavy syllable there are two sets of variables that have to be taken into consideration, which is whether the syllable is open or closed; and whether the vowel is short or long.

1) An open syllable is one in which a vowel is followed by another vowel, or by not more than one consonant; a closed syllable is one in which a vowel is followed by a conjunct, or by the niggahīta ().

2) a, i, & u, are naturally short (rassa) vowels; ā, ī, & ū, are naturally long (dīgha) vowels. e & o are heavy in open syllables and light in closed syllables.

An open syllable with a short vowel is light metrically.

A closed syllable, or a syllable with a long vowel, is heavy metrically.

There is an additional rule that the last syllable in a line, no matter what its natural weight, is always marked as heavy; therefore the last syllable in line a below is marked as heavy in the example.

In analysis 2 signs are used to indicate weight: = light; = heavy.

 

 

 

 

SYLLABLES

V
O
W
E
L
S

 

 

open

closed

short:

a i u

variable:

eo

long:

ā ī ū

(−)

 

Here is a verse from Mangalasutta of Khuddakapāṭha (5: 1) together with its analysis:

       1  2  3  4    5  6  7  8  ||  1  2  3  4    5  6  7  8
⏑ − − − ¦ ⏑ − − − ¦ ¦ − ⏑ − ⏑ ¦ ⏑ − ⏑ −
a & b Bahū devā manussā ca, ~ mangalāni acintayuṁ,

       1  2  3  4    5  6  7  8  ||  1  2  3  4    5  6  7  8
− − ⏑ − ¦ − − − − ¦ ¦ − ⏑ − ⏑ ¦ ⏑ − ⏑ −
c & d Ākankhamānā sotthānaṁ, ~ brūhi mangalam-uttamaṁ.

 

In this verse nearly all the principles outlined in the rule can be seen:

1) a short vowel followed by another vowel = , b 4

2) a short vowel followed by a single consonant = , a 1, 5; b 2, 5, 7; c 3; d 2, 4, 5, 7

3) a short vowel followed by a conjunct consonant = , a 6; b 1, 6; c 2; d 3, 6

4) a short vowel followed by niggahīta = , b 8; c 8; d 8

5) a variable vowel followed by a single consonant = , a 3

6) a variable vowel followed by a conjunct consonant = , c 6

7) a long vowel followed by a single consonant = , a 2, 4, 7; b 3; c 1, 4, 5, 7; d 1

8) the last vowel in line a, despite its natural weight, is taken as heavy

Because of the tendency in Pāḷi for all syllables to be no longer than 2 measures ( = 1 measure; = 2 measures), a long vowel followed by a conjunct consonant is rare, and doesn't occur in our example. Note however that there are some words that do have a long vowel followed by a conjunct consonant, like svākkhāta & brāhmaṇa, and they do occur in verse, where they are counted as 2 morae as with a long vowel or a syllable containing a conjunct consonant.