Parseltongue

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Parseltongue
Created by Francis Nolan/Robert Marshall Murphy
Setting Harry Potter Universe
Date 2002
Region Europe and Africa
Ethnicity Parseltongues, Snakes
Language family
Uralic/Bantu?
  • Parseltongue
ISO 639-3

Parseltongue is the magical language of snakes, snake-like creatures, and certain magical human beings. It has features of Bantu and Uralic languages. Everything is voiceless. Its morphosyntactic alignment is unique. The language is mentioned in J.K. Rowling's books without any specific examples. Cambridge professor Francis Nolan was commission to created phrases for the movies, but not an entire grammar or lexicon. This language represents an attempt to take all of his notes and complete the project. Almost every line in the films was in the the imperative voice, so his ideas have been extravagantly supplemented. The rest of this article is written "in universe."


Quote.png
It is everyone involved's sincere desire that this project serve as an inspirational model for magical/muggle interactions in the future. Parseltongue is an excellent pattern to follow since it's existence is only known by magic but only muggles have developed the science of linguistics. This project is dedicated to the first martyr of this charitable cause, Charity Burbage, and the very kind Parselmouth Penelope Gaunt, without whose help none of this would have been possible.
—Ministry of Magical-Muggle Relations, Linguistics Division


History

Paracelsus (1493—1541), was an Austrian physician, born Phillip Von Hohenheim. On accident, he discovered he could speak to snakes. He had no explanation for the phenomenon and made no attempt to document its simple existence.

In the 1990's, the now-famous Harry Potter discovered that he was a Parselmouth (a wizard with the unconscious, magical ability to speak to snakes). He never learned any vocabulary or grammar, but was able to produce novel utterance, even with derived morphologies. He subsequently lost this magical ability. After the worldwide rediscovery of magic (hidden since 1692) and the creation of the Ministry of Muggle Relations, our department was given a grant to study Parseltongue and Parselmouths. To date, we have only found one conscious snake to interview, though communities of Parselmouths have been found in Estonia and Bukina-Fasa. There are rumors of a completely distinct second Parseltongue language in Sri Lanka.

On the one hand, Parseltongue is like any other language that human beings may study and learn. On the other hand, it is a magical ability possessed by only a minuscule fraction of the wizarding community. This ability requires no conscious attention by the wizard or witch, but seemingly adds a layer of "pseudo-consciousnes" to the snake with whom they are speaking. This snake is then able to articulate speech and hear the Parselmouth, both of which are otherwise physically impossible.

Parseltongue itself seems to be a magically generated amalgam created by magic from the minds of speakers. It bears many strong resemblances to languages from Africa and India, both areas with long histories of human-snake interaction. All over the world, Parselmouths, Snake-animagi, and sentient snake-like creatures all speak the same version of the language, without being in physical contact. The language is magically maintained among all speakers and updates itself, however slowly. In Sapir's terminology, there is only short-term unidirectional drift, not long-term cyclic drift. Given the small number of speakers, this drift is assumed to be very small and gradual.

Phonology

Parseltongue is characterized by its lacking of voicing and lack of labializing.

Consonants

Parseltongue Consonants
Dental Laminal Apical Lateral Palatal Velar Radical Glottal
Nasal m /n̪̊/ n /n̥/ ñ /ɲ̊/ ŋ /ŋ̊/
Stop p /t̪/ t /t/ c /c~t͡ʃ/ k /k/ ` /ʡ~ʛ̥ / ' /ʔ/
Click b /ǀ/ d /!/ q /ǁ/
Fricative f /θ̟/ v /s̻/ s /s/ z /ɬ/ j /ʃ~ɕ/ x /x/ g /ħ/ h /h/
Approximant r /ɹ̊~ɻ̊/ l /l̥/ y /j/ w /ɰ/

Stops may be glottalized by subsequent glottal stops, or aspirated by subsequent glottal fricatives. These are all written as digraphs and function like affricates. Clicks may be nasalized by a preceding nasal consonant.

Stop Harmony

Most verbs in the indicative begin with a stop, but it is typically underspecified. It conforms to the nasal or fricative of the subject's noun class in the following ways:

T'
m/f/v/r p ph p'
n/s/l/z t th t'
ñ/j/y c ch c'
ŋ/x/w k kh k'
g/h ' 'h `


Vowels

Parseltongue Vowels
Front Central Back
High i /i/ u /ɯ/
Near-High ï /ɪ/ ü /ʊ̜/
Mid-High e /e/ o /ɤ/
Mid-Low ë /ɛ/ ö /ʌ/
Near-Low a /æ~ɐ/
Low ä /a~ä~ɑ/

Vowels are all unrounded, even the back ones. The system is actually an ordinary 5-vowel layout, but with ±ATR. ATR is part of the vowel-harmony system, so -- for simplicity sake -- the vowels could be charted thus:

Parseltongue Vowel Harmony
Front Back
High i/ï u/ü
Mid e/ë o/ö
Low a/ä

This makes it obvious that vowels contrast for high vs. mid vs. low, front vs. back, and +ATR vs. -ATR. Vowel length is contrastive but does not play a part in harmony.

Syntax

Parseltongue has a complex case system, with four core cases (Nominative, Accusative, Agentive, and Patientive), and five non-core cases (Genitive, Dative, Ablative, Partitive, and Attributive). The Agentive doubles as a Vocative case, and the Dative doubles as a Topical marker.

Because Parseltongue is spoken by non-sentient snakes under the influence of magic, it conflates deixis and person. Time, place, person, distance, and even discourse are all marked the same. For convenience sake, these are all labeled "person":

# Name Person Demon. Time Discourse
-1 Negative No one None Never Nothing
0 Indefinite Someone/anyone Some Some time Something
½ Dim. Proximal "Little ol' me" This (dim) Any second now This (already mentioned, dim)
1 Proximal I This Now This (already mentioned)
Mesioproximal We (you and I) This* "Just now" This (forthcoming)
2 Mesiodistal You That Then That
3 Distal He/She/It Yon "That time" That (previously mentioned)
3L Logophor "the other guy" Other "That other time" That (other previously mentioned)

There are no articles in Parseltongue.

Like Bantu languages, there are 16 noun classes. These act something like genders in other languages.

All verbs conjugate (mandatorily) for evidentiality. Things are known by smell, heat, hearing, or sight. This is also the order from most reliable to least. Parseltongue is a base-4 (quaternary) number system. Verbs all have an expect case for the subject (either Nominative, Accusative, Agentive, or Patientive) which then mandates their classification (Active Volitional, Passive Volitional, Active Non-volitional, or Passive Non-volitional). Verbs do not conjugate for number. The aspect is either Perfect(ive) or Imperfect(ive). The mood is either Real(is) or Irreal(is). The state is independent or dependent.

Adpositions are almost all postpositions.


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