19th century Burmese Kammavācā (confession for Buddhist monks), written in Pali on gilded palm leaf

Bhikkhu Bodhi, summarizing the current state of scholarship, states that the language is "closely related to the language (or, more likely, the various regional dialects) that the Buddha himself spoke". He goes on to write:

Scholars regard this language as a hybrid showing features of several Prakrit dialects used around the third century BCE, subjected to a partial process of Sanskritization. While the language is not identical to what Buddha himself would have spoken, it belongs to the same broad language family as those he might have used and originates from the same conceptual matrix. This language thus reflects the thought-world that the Buddha inherited from the wider Indian culture into which he was born, so that its words capture the subtle nuances of that thought-world.

Ardhamagadhi Prakrit differs from later Magadhi Prakrit in similar ways to Pali, and was often believed to be connected with Pali on the basis of the belief that Pali recorded the speech of the Buddha in an early Magadhi dialect.

Differences observed between preserved examples of Magadhi Prakrit and Pali lead scholars to conclude that Pali represented a development of a northwestern dialect of Middle Indic, rather than being a continuation of a language spoken in the area of Magadha in the time of the Buddha.

In Pali language, the consonants may be divided according to their strength or power of resistance. The strength decreases in the order of: mutes, sibilant, nasals, l, v, y, r

When two consonants come together, they are subject to one of the following change:

when one of the two consonants is the sibilant s, then the new group of consonants has the aspiration in the last consonant: as-ti (root: as) > atthi 'is'

Pali is a highly inflected language, in which almost every word contains, besides the root conveying the basic meaning, one or more affixes (usually suffixes) which modify the meaning in some way. Nouns are inflected for gender, number, and case; verbal inflections convey information about person, number, tense and mood.

i-stems and u-stems are either masculine or neuter. The masculine and neuter forms differ only in the nominative and accusative cases. The vocative has the same form as the nominative.

Mind-before-going-M.PL.NOM dharma-M.PL.NOM, mind-foremost-M.PL.NOM mind-made-M.PL.NOM

Mind-N.SG.INST=if corrupted-N.SG.INST speak-3.SG.PRES=either act-3.SG.PRES=or,

That-from him suffering after-go-3.SG.PRES, wheel as carrying(beast)-M.SG.GEN foot-N.SG.ACC

The literal meaning is therefore: "The dharmas have mind as their leader, mind as their chief, are made of/by mind. If [someone] either speaks or acts with a corrupted mind, from that [cause] suffering goes after him, as the wheel [of a cart follows] the foot of a draught animal."

Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought.

Pali and Sanskrit are very closely related and the common characteristics of Pali and Sanskrit were always easily recognized by those in India who were familiar with both. A large part of Pali and Sanskrit word-stems are identical in form, differing only in details of inflection.

The following phonological processes are not intended as an exhaustive description of the historical changes which produced Pali from its Old Indic ancestor, but rather are a summary of the most common phonological equations between Sanskrit and Pali, with no claim to completeness.

Total assimilation, where one sound becomes identical to a neighboring sound, is of two types: progressive, where the assimilated sound becomes identical to the following sound; and regressive, where it becomes identical to the preceding sound.

There are several notable exceptions to the rules above; many of them are common Prakrit words rather than borrowings from Sanskrit.

The transmission of written Pali has retained a universal system of alphabetic values, but has expressed those values in a variety of different scripts.

However, not all Unicode fonts contain the necessary characters. To properly display all the diacritic marks used for romanized Pali (or for that matter, Sanskrit), a Unicode font must contain the following character ranges:

Some Unicode fonts freely available for typesetting Romanized Pali are as follows:

The following table compares various conventional renderings and shortcut key assignments: