The word pàëi simply means `a line of text' but has come to be used as the name for the language that the Tipiñaka used by Theravàda Buddhists is written in. Traditional Buddhists believe that the Buddha spoke Pàëi although this is certainly not correct. Some modern philologists think Pàëi was actually a language of western or central India, while others maintain that it was a literary language based on a form of Màgadhã. In later centuries the Theravada tradition came to look upon Pàëi as a sacred language, claiming that the Dhamma could only be understood by learning it in Pàëi. It was believed to be the original language (mulabhàsà, Vism.441) and the Sammohavinadinã went as far as to claim that if a child was bought up never hearing a language it would naturally speak  Pàëi. None of this accords with the Buddhas understanding of language. The Buddha knew that no one language is better than any other in transmitting truth and thus his exhortation: `I allow you to learn the Buddha's words each in your own language' (Vin.II,139).

Until recently, most books on Theravàda Ý histories, poems, commentaries, stories, etc. Ý were written in Pàëi. Any well-educated monk in Sri Lanka, Burma or Thailand will be proficient in Pàëi.