Parseltongue

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Trope · Genre
Synonyms: Parselmouth![character]
Related: Dark Harry, Slytherin
See Also: Mermish, Gobbledegook, Troll, Fictional Language
Tropes · Slash Tropes · Tropes by Fandom
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In the Harry Potter universe, Parseltongue is the language of snakes and other serpentine creatures. A person who has the ability to speak Parseltongue is called a Parselmouth. This ability is very rare and often associated with the Dark Arts.

Fans sometimes use the term as a catch-all for foreign or difficult-to-understand language: for example, the On-line Wizarding Library's "Parseltongue" category for non-English fanfic, and the Nimbus 2003 panel "Parseltongue for Non-Native Speakers" on legalese.

The Linguistics of Parseltongue

In the books, Parseltongue is described as "spitting, hissing noises".[1] It is unclear whether non-Parselmouths can distinguish sound variations that represent words: Fans generally believe that there is an inherent magical component necessary to speak and understand Parseltongue, but the later books suggest that this might not be the case.

The Harry Potter films feature a version of Parseltongue designed by Francis Nolan, Professor of Phonetics at the University of Cambridge.[2] This film version of Parseltongue is popular among fans. Nolan's Parseltongue features a distinct phonology and syntax, making it theoretically learnable, and fans have taken to analysing the language as it appears in the films—for example, through IPA transcriptions of the sounds[3]—as well as expanding the vocabulary and syntax from the film to make it more functional, even creating entire conlangs based on it.

Nolan has given lectures in which he describes the creation of his Parseltongue and theories behind it. Nolan reportedly got the job through a former student, and his goals for the language were for it to "sound ominous; be appropriate to snakes; [and] be possible for actors to pronounce".[4]

Parseltongue Translation & Study

  • The Parselmouth, a fan-created Parseltongue dictionary with audio, inspired by the films. Translation and voice by Phylloxera, founded c. 2008.
  • Parseltongue 101, a Hogwarts Online course to learn a collaboratively fan-developed version of Parseltongue, inspired by The Parselmouth.com and Parseltongue-inspired by Eugene Oh. (c. 2011)
  • Parseltongue translator (now offline), an official Warner Bros. translator "to translate any phrase into Parseltongue", created to promote Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2. Allowed fans to download .mp3 files of their translations or to share them on social media.[5] It didn't give translations for profanity.[6] The Parseltongue translator was also featured as part of "The Magical Quill" challenge for early Pottermore registration in August 2011. (c. June 2011-2012)

Conlangs Inspired by Parseltongue

In Fanfiction

Common tropes or topics of interest include:

  • befriending snakes or adopting a pet snake
  • useful in taking down Voldemort (when the series was still incomplete or as AUs), e.g. by getting information from snakes, or luring Nagini in order to kill her
  • correcting what some saw as the underuse of Parseltongue and Harry's lack of appreciation for it in canon
  • as a sexual kink, "Parselsmut", Parseltongue as a magical aphrodisiac
  • written Parseltongue or "Parselscript" (e.g. deciphering an ancient manuscript, or Slytherin's notes), exploring the history of Parseltongue
  • arcane magic requiring the use of Parseltongue
  • talking to dragons and (less often) other reptiles which also use the language, usually during the Triwizard Tournament.

Notable Stories involving Parseltongue

Examples Wanted: Editors are encouraged to add more examples or a wider variety of examples.

Other Parseltongue Fanworks

Links & Resources

General Resources

Fanwork Resources

References

  1. As described from the perspective of Frank Bryce, a Muggle and thus non-Parselmouth, in Harry Potter Goblet of Fire Chapter 1, "The Riddle House" (2000): "And the second man’s voice changed. He started making noises such as Frank had never heard before; he was hissing and spitting without drawing breath. [...] The snake was level with him, and then, incredibly, miraculously, it was passing; it was following the spitting, hissing noises made by the cold voice beyond the door."
  2. Francis Nolan is credited for Parseltongue for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (2010). See his IMDb page. From Wikipedia:Magic in Harry Potter#Parseltongue: "Professor Francis Nolan, Professor of Phonetics at University of Cambridge, designed the version of Parseltongue used in the films as an ergative-absolutive language featuring geminate consonants and VSO word-order. It has a high frequency of fricative and pharyngeal consonants to acoustically approximate the physiology of a snake." (Accessed 26 February 2017.)
  3. For example, Parseltongue in (probably woefully incorrect) IPA, an IPA transcription of the Duelling Club scene in Chamber of Secrets by magicaldeductions on Tumblr, 17 September 2011. (Original poster's account deactivated; reblog accessed 26 February 2017.)
  4. Live tweets of Nolan's lecture by linguistlaura, 09 December 2015. See also linguismstics's report from a talk given by Nolan, 09 November 2013.
  5. Noelene Clark, "Hero Complex" from the L.A. Times, ‘Harry Potter’: New Parseltongue translator lets muggles hiss like Slytherin, 29 June 2011. (Accessed 26 February 2017.)
  6. Sean O'Connell at cinemablend.com, Harry Potter Online Tool Teaches You To Speak Parseltongue, c.2011. (Accessed 26 February 2017.)
  7. Description from CarpeSaponem's Luminary Links page at GeoCities, archived 26 October 2009. See also the About Parseltongue page.