Parseltongue uses a system of grammatical cases similar to Latin (with some features in common with Estonian). Person, in Parseltongue, is conflated with demonstrativity, deixis, and honor. Nouns and verbs are not marked for number or gender, but there are 18 noun-classes, many of which imply numbers and gender. Independent verbs must be marked for evidentiality, although it is often taken metaphorically.
There are four "core" cases - Nominative, Accusative, Agentive and Patientive - and five "oblique" cases - Dative, Possessive, Partitive, Genitive, and Ablative. The core cases interact with lexical aspects of the verb to distinguish the subject and object. A few verbs take Dative, Partitive, or Ablative objects.
All verbs have a lexically contained expectation for which case the subject will be in. Hence, all verbs are active or passive and volitional or non-volitional by default, which will also indicate which paradigm it follows. When given an unexpected case, intentionality or casuality is signified:
|Active Non-Volitional||Passive Non-Volitional||Active Volitional||Passive Volitional|
|Nominative Agent||Involuntary Cause||Unintentional Agent||Unintentional Cause||-♊|
|Accusative||Direct Object||Descriptive||Unintentional Patient||Pseudo-Passive Object||-V+low|
|Agentive||Agent!||Cause!||Ergative Subject||Intentional Cause||-♊V+high,+front|
|Patientive||Intentional Direct Object||Pseudo-Passive Agent||Absolutive Object||Stative||-♊V+mid,+back|
The oblique cases function generally like Indo-European cases, but with some notable exceptions.
- Some linguistics prefer to call this the "topico-dative" because it can function similarly to the Japanese は/wa, or the Korean 는/은. These instances are typically best translated as "in regards to" or "as for". Like the Latin Ablative Absolute or the Greek Genitive Absolute, entire clauses may be in the Dative, which expresses "attendant circumstances". However, unlike Greek or Latin, these phrases are the focus, not peripheral.
The Dative is often equivalent to the English prepositions "to, for, by, with, from" and/or indicates the Indirect Object. The other four cases fall under the 'genitive' rubric in many languages
- Like the Uralic languages, the partitive means "some of" or "part of" or "any". It can also be used for the object of an atelic actions or sensing/perceiving verbs. 'Half of my possessions’; ‘some of the branches’; ‘the poor among of the people’, 'partake of my meal', 'I saw some of him'.
- Like the English 's. This is the subjective genitive. "Love of God" would have to mean (in this case) "God's love", not "my love for God"
- This can be Epexegetical or Attributive/Descriptive. e.g. "the horcrux of his body", "words of wisdom (i.e. wise words)"
- Objective Genitive, "concerning, against, about, on, from", separation, adverbial
Parseltongue has an astronomical seven (almost eight) persons. We account for this remarkable fact by remembering that it is magical language bridge between sentient and non-sentient species. A species that is not self-aware will not have a strong sense of "I", but the cognizant interlocutor addressing them will. Hence, "me" and the "space near me" are conflated, as well as "you" and the "space near you". Other analyses, different than the one given below, are of course possible, but this number seems to reflect snake-psychology.
Despite not being self-aware, snakes are very conscious of respect and honor. When a snake wishes to be self-depricating, she will use the half-person. 1½st person functions both as an inclusive 'we' and as an equivalent to the German 'du'.
|½||Dim. Proximal||"Little ol' me"||This (dim)||Any second now||This (already mentioned, dim)|
|1||Proximal||I||This||Now||This (already mentioned)|
|1½||Mesioproximal||We (you and I)||This*||"Just now"||This (forthcoming)|
|3||Distal||He/She/It||Yon||"That time"||That (previously mentioned)|
|3L||Logophor||"the other guy"||Other||"That other time"||That (other previously mentioned)|
Note that "token-reflexive" deixis is not possible in Parseltongue. A snake could not say, "This is my apology," but would have to say, "I apologize (illoc.)" (i.e. ¡æ'kæ¿aña þassa)
There are no articles in Parseltongue. The Negative Person is a universal negative. The Zero Person is used of non-specific subjects only. Hence, all others persons are both indefinite and definite, yet always specific. For example, in English we have the two very similar sentences
- A wizard was needed, but I could't find one.
- A wizard was needed, but I could't find him.
The latter is specific, while former is not. The former would utilize the Zeroth Person in Parseltongue, while the latter would be in the 3rd person.
The half persons function to indicate politeness, intimacy or self-deprecation. When a snake meets a human they don't know, they immediately think of the person as a threat and attempt to self-deprecate and kowtow. They will use the half-person to refer to themselves, as if to say "little ol' me". Even after a civil or intimate relationship has been established, a snake will continue to refer to regions of her body other than her head or tail with the half person.
The 1.5 person is the same only opposite. A new or distant relationship with an interlocutor will be expressed with the plain 2nd person, but once intimacy has been achieved, a snake will switch using the inclusive 'we', the first and half person. This can be a confusing turn for the uninitiated, since such a 'we' can refer (objectively) to the interlocutor, the speaker, or them both together.
The regular and (anti-)logophoric third person can alternate very quickly in dialogue. Consider the English sentences:
- A man walked into a room, and
- he met a woman,
- who said to him,
- "Buy me a drink."
In Parseltongue, the first sentence verb is in the ordinary third person, as is the second. But in #3 the pronoun would be the (anti-)logophoric third person. In dependent clauses, the 3L pronoun means that a switch in reference has occurred. In English, we would clarify the ambiguous sentence, "He said that he went" with either "He said that he himself went" or "He said that the other guy went". Parseltongue uses the regular third person pronoun for the former and the (anti-)logophoric pronouns for the latter. (This is the same logophoric system found in the Luo language.)
The element of Parseltongue most similar to any purely-human language is the noun-class system. This is so much the case, that at first, it was assumed that Parseltongue was a Bantu language. However, the differences are profound enough and the number of vocabulary items in common so few that the designation was never adopted.
|Sentient beings||Sentient beings|
|Plants and body parts||Plants and body parts|
|Round/Large things|| Liquids, groups, |
|tools, methods, kinds||tools, methods, kinds|
| 11, 12
| 13, 14
Root words, in the form of stems, may have expressions in multiple classes. For example, *ħäl is assumed to be a generic term for human beings, from which is derived the extremely derogatory ñäħäl/muggle and ordinary xüħäl/crowd.
All indicative/independent verbs in Parseltongue must be marked for evidentiality. Snakes senses are not like human sense: they are different and valued differently. They are - in decreasing order of assuredness - smell, heat, hearing, and sight.
Snakes extend their forked tongues out into the air and pull "smells" into their mouths. Their "noses" (Jacobson's organs) are on the roof of their mouth and retain which direct on the tongue the "smells" came from. This gives them a very refined and directional sense, as or more definite that most human's seeing. Knowledge obtained this way is the most certain and so is most analogous to human's "I see" or "I know". When a snake conjugates a verb in this evidential, she is indicating information immediately experienced. Such information cannot be doubted without insulting the snake.
- Main article: Wikipedia:Infrared sensing in snakes
Snakes have special sensors where other animals' "noses" would be which detect heat or Infra-red radiation. Snakes report not "seeing" a field - as humans do with sight - but "feeling" the nearness and/or warmth of things. This is most akin to a human saying "I feel like you are ..." or "I sense not everyone in the room agrees with ...". Information given in this evidential may not have been directly observed, simply inferred.
Many snakes are "deaf" as humans measure hearing. A snake's entire body functions like an "ear", sensing vibrations. This knowledge is very accurate, but because it comes from their whole body (not just their head) it is more like "gut knowledge". Information given in this evidential is believed to be true, but come by indirectly. Tenuous conclusions may be given in this form.
Magic causes snakes internal ear to hear external speech. Only a Parselmouth magician may speak to a snake and be heard. For the rest of us (Muggles and non-Parselmouth magicians) Parseltongue may be learned and spoken amongst ourselves only.
Most snakes have poor vision, with a majority not being binocular. This mood is used metaphorically as a person would say, "I suppose" or "I guess". A snake is indicating that they are very doubtful of information given in this form.
Parseltongue uses a base-4, or quaternary numeral system. Octals have unique (ancient?) names, functioning like '20' does in many human languages (see vigesimal). The other major exception is æahæ, which means 100,000,0004 (cp. Korean 억 or Chinese/Japanese 億).
Æhæ is used metaphorically, in the same way we say "not in a million years". Non-sentient snakes don't seem to care about numbers bigger than þe, which is synonymous with a full field of vision. Parselmouths speaking to each other in Parseltongue, discussing large numbers resort to scientific notation long before getting to the biggest number one can say in Parseltongue - 33,333,333,333,333,3334 üþedhæonæhæ ššñaüþedhægliæhæ ššñaüþedhææhæ üþedhæon ššñaüþedhægli ššñaüþedhæ - 17,179,869,18310