Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter/Magic/Parseltongue

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Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter - Magic
Parseltongue
Type Language
Features The ability to talk to snakes
First Appearance Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (first appearance); Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (named)

Overview[edit]

Parseltongue is the language of snakes. A wizard capable of speaking Parseltongue is called a Parselmouth.

Extended Description[edit]

Beginner warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

The ability to speak Parseltongue is usually inborn; a wizard is born being able to speak Parseltongue, and those who are not born with the ability cannot normally learn the language (although, according to the author, Dumbledore may have learned to understand it, and in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Ron has learned one word of it, though it is questionable whether he knows what it means). To date, the ability to speak Parseltongue has been almost entirely associated with those who can show direct descent from Salazar Slytherin.

Harry, it turns out, can speak Parseltongue, though he was apparently not born with that ability. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Professor Dumbledore suggests that when Lord Voldemort, who is Slytherin's last descendant, tried to kill Harry, some of Voldemort's powers were transferred to him; one of those was Parseltongue.

Analysis[edit]

Harry's ability to speak Parseltongue is first described in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; it is only there that we discover how rare this ability is and how it is linked to Voldemort. However, this is not the first use of this ability; in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Harry speaks to a snake while visiting the zoo with the Dursleys.

The fact that Harry is a Parseltongue plays a major role in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, as it is his ability to understand Parseltongue that allows him to hear the Monster in the Chamber when it is prowling through the school, and because it allows him to actually open the Chamber. It also plays a lesser role in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince where it allows him to understand the conversations between members of the Gaunt family as viewed in Dumbledore's Pensieve. It also plays a small role in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows where it allows Harry to open the locket Horcrux, and allows him to understand the false Bathilda Bagshot, and to understand Voldemort's instructions to Nagini.

Questions[edit]

Study questions are meant to be left for each student to answer; please don't answer them here.

  1. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Morfin Gaunt apparently refuses (or is unable) to speak anything except Parseltongue. How is Dumbledore, who is not a Parselmouth, able to understand what happens in the Pensieve memory where Morfin is talking to Tom Riddle?

Greater Picture[edit]

Intermediate warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

We learn in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that Harry's ability to speak Parseltongue is actually related to the soul shard that Voldemort lost when trying to kill Harry. That soul shard had attached itself to Harry, and was the source of this ability, as well as the ability to see into Voldemort's mind. The soul shard was destroyed in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and Harry's ability to speak Parseltongue went with it, according to the author.

The reason that Dumbledore can speak Parseltongue is never made entirely clear, but it is mentioned that he could speak some hundreds of languages, including Mermish and Gobbledegook. Having him understand Parseltongue as well would be relatively simple; apparently the ease of learning a language increases with the number of languages learned, even for Muggles.

While it is not directly associated with the language, we note that Harry is usually unable to tell whether he is speaking or hearing Parseltongue. When addressing the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets, for instance, he only realizes that he hadn't spoken Parseltongue when Ron tells him it was English. No real explanation for this is given to us, nor is there any explanation for why Harry can tell the difference when visiting the House of Gaunt in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, but not in the following book in Bathilda Bagshot's house. We suppose it may have something to do with environment; Harry may be more likely to expect Parseltongue from the clutch of odd people in the Gaunt shack than in Bathilda's house. It is possible hat this lessened ability to tell the difference came about because the ability was simply dropped on him; if he had to work to learn the language, as we suppose Dumbledore did, he would be much more likely to differentiate. As it is, it is something he has always known, and so seems as easy for him as English. This inability to distinguish is a minor plot point at two places in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and a somewhat larger one a Bathilda's house in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.