Snakes have vastly simplified mouths compared to human-beings. We are capable of making every sound they make, though some are easier than others. Snakes have no lips. Their soft-palate is occupied with the vomeronasal organ (Jacobson's organ), which acts as a sense of smell. Snakes have no uvula. Their glottis can move aside when eating.
Sentient and non-sentient snakes hiss their entire volume of air without interruption, so a Parseltongue utterances cannot be longer than about ten seconds. Stops are typically initial, and in a verb. Whatever vocal-cords they are graced with by magic, snakes cannot speak very loudly or vary pitch beyond very low frequencies. Humans speaking above a loud whisper, voicing consonants and vowels, are something like "shouting barbarians" to the snakes we were allowed to interview.
Given snake anatomy, even with the aide of magic, Parseltongue
- has no labial consonants
- has no uvular consonants
- has no voiced consonants
- has clicks
- has no co-articulated consonants (except nasal clicks)
- prefers to end an utterance with a sibilant/fricative or a vowel
- has ejective forms of the stops (and affricates)
- has ingressive sounds in certain circumstances
There is a non-phonemic sound that snakes are readily capable of making, the trilled 'r'. However, /r/ is a highly erotic sound which no snake would make in polite company!
Non-parselmouths should take care not to "round" any consonants or vowels when speaking to a sentient snake. Snakes have no lips, so this can render one's speech unintelligible. English speakers should take greatest care with words beginning with 'r' or any 'sh' sound.
|Consonants (IPA above, Romanization below)|
The dentals are actually all interdental, with the tongue protruding far out between the teeth.
The retroflex consonants are like those found in Hindi or Tamil. That is, the tip of the tongue is not actually curled backwards, only pushed back past the alveolar ridge. However, most humans have to articulate the retroflex click with the tongue actually curling back on itself (but snakes do not).
The palatal stop /c/ can be said in the way common to those unfamiliar with such a sound (i.e. /tʃ/) with no loss of clarity to a Parselmouth or a snake.
For those unfamiliar with the sound /ɰ/, pronounce a 'w' but leave off the lip-rounding. The lateral fricative (z) is found in Welsh but may be very unfamiliar to English-speakers elsewhere. The pharyngeal approximant (g) is a very raspy 'h', produced as far down the throat as possible. The epiglottal stop (`) is produced very differently in snakes and humans, but is moderately similar to the sound many people use to imitate strong swallowing sounds, only whispered.
The dental click (pq) is used in the English "tsk tsk tsk", while the lateral click (zq) is used to spur on a horse. The alveolar click (tq) is made by placing the tongue at the top of the mouth and then letting it slap down. The African version of this click - where the mouth produces an overly loud, hollow sound - should be avoided. The retroflex click (ʈq) is made by curling the tongue tip backwards and then sucking in. Because there are ingressive, ʈq and nʈq are sui generis and not normally parts of words, but only exclamatory interjections and ideophones.
Clicks are most often "pre-nasalized", in which case they are written with the letter n before hand (i.e. npq, ntq, nzq, and nʈq). In practice, the nasal quality may match the click in place of articulation or more often be the velar nasal ŋ. Such difference are not phonemic, so all version are spelled with an 'n'.
|"None" (º)||"Breathing" (ʰ)||"Biting" (')|
Most verbs in Parseltongue begin with a stop (in the indicative). These stops are most often underspecified. That is, they conform in place of articulation to the nasal, fricative, or approximant of the subject's classifier.
The names of the three classes of stops are calques of the Parseltongue names themselves. Underspecified stops are as a T with the class symbols as a small superscript, e.g. ŋaTʰaṣo = ŋakhaṣo.
There are a small number of ingressive words in Parseltongue, mostly interjections, ideophones and onomatopoeias. There is no special notation for these words: they are either italicized or set off in down-arrows before and after (e.g. ↓kss↓). The retroflex clicks (i.e. ʈq and nʈq) are ingressive, but not marked as such in any way.
The lateral approximant and fricative seemingly do not care where they are articulated, capitulating left and right. The following patterns all apply whether l/z comes first or second:
- p/f/m + l > /l̪/
- ʈ/ṣ/ṇ + l > ḷ
- c/ç/ñ + l > /ʎ/
- k/x/ŋ + l > /ɫ̥/
- p/f/m + z > /ɬ̟/
- ʈ/ṣ/ṇ + z> /ɬ̢/
- c/ç/ñ + z > /ʎ̝̊/
- k/x/ŋ + z > /ʟ̝̊/
Nasals assimilate place of articulation before stops and clicks. Two hetrorganic nasals assimilate to the place of articulation of the first.
English does distinguish between geminate and non-geminate consonants (cp. "his zeal" vs. "his eel") but it is often irrelevant. In Parseltongue, however, it is of great import. Stops cannot be geminated.
|Vowels (IPA above, Romanization below)|
Like the Niger-Congo family of languages in Africa, Parseltongue has a system of five vowels, each of which has a twin with Advanced Tongue Root (ATR). These five vowels can be arranged in a 'V', with i in the top-left. e is in the middle-left and a at the bottom. The unrounded (because, again, snakes have no lips) versions of o and u are the right-middle and top-right components of the 'V'. With this pattern in mind, one can see how i and u are "high", while e and o are "mid". a is "low". i e a are "front" and u o a are "back". Notice how, in regards to frontness/backness, a is both.
Like consonant gemination, all vowels exist in long and short versions.
When vowel hiatus occurs (which is often), snakes and Parselmouths do not glide between vowels, but neither are there excrescent glottal stops.
Generally, j and w function as consonants, even with gemination. Sometimes, however, they function as vowels. There are no vowel-vowel diphthongs in Parseltongue, but any vowel can be coupled with any semi-vowel. After +ATR vowels, they are /i/ and /ɯ/. After -ATR vowels, they are /ɪ/ and /ʊ̜/.
Like Finnish, Parseltongue has vowel harmony. Like Mongolian, however, it is based on Advanced Tongue Root (ATR). In every case, pushing the tongue forward is indicated by removing the umlaut/diaeresis from the letter. Hence, ï is /ɪ/ as in "kit" and i is /i/ as in "keep". a is /æ/ as in "Sally", while ä is /ä/ as in "father".
Vowels have three attributes:
- +high vs. +mid vs. +low
- +front vs. +back (a/ä is both)
- +ATR vs. -ATR
Underspecified vowels are written as a capital V with the set attribute(s) in small superscript, e.g. t+high,+frontsä = tësä.
Like the Salish language of the Pacific-Northwest, Parseltongue can be extremely difficult to analyze phonotacticly. Even with enunciating as one would to a fool or simpleton, snakes never cease a continuous airstream. We managed to persuade our Burmese python to geminate stops (normally forbidden by Parseltongue phonotactics) but could not get her to supply prolonged glottal stops to ease our analysis! Syllable boundaries, therefore, are highly arbitrary. The same snake we interviewed regard this as an unimportant, human problem, akin to transcribing choking or sneezing!
Under our analysis, there are four over-arching types of syllables with regard to nuclei: vowels, liquids, clicks, and fricative. Affricates -- whether they share place of articulation or not -- are simply counted as stop + fricative.
- Vowel nuclei (of either length)
- May have neither onset nor coda: V(:)
- May have an onset consonant: CV(:)
- which may have a coda sonorant (which can be geminate): CV(:)R(:)
- May have just a coda sonorant (which may be geminate): V(:)R(:)
- May have a consonant plus approximant onset cluster: CAV(:)
- which may have a coda sonorant (which can be geminate): CAV(:)R(:)
- May have an affricate onset cluster: OFV(:)
- which may have a coda sonorant (which can be geminate): OFV(:)R(:)
- Liquid nuclei (with or without gemination)
- May have neither onset nor coda: B(:)
- May have a fricative onset (which may be geminate): F(:)B(:)
- Fricative nuclei (with or without gemination)
- May have neither onset nor coda: F(:)
- May have an onset stop: SF(:)
- Click nuclei (without without gemination)
- May have neither onset nor coda: Q(:)
- May have a sonorant onset (which may be geminate): R(:)Q(:)
- F = any Fricative (f + s + z + ṣ + ç + x)
- N = any Nasal (m + n + ṇ + ñ + ŋ)
- B = N + r + l
- A = any Approximant (l + r + j + w + g + h)
- R = Sonorants (F + N + A)
- S = any Stop (including aspirated versions)
- Q = any egressive Click, including pre-nasalized Clicks, so not the retroflex clicks nʈq (pq + tq + zq + npq + ntq + nzq)
- O = Obstruents (S + Q)
- C = any Consonant (R + O)
- V = any Vowel (a + ä + e + ë + i + ï + o + ö + u + ü)
While nasals can be geminate, one nasal may never be followed by another (across syllable boundaries).
Aesthetically, snakes find it undesirable to have stops in the middle of an utterance. Hence, while it would be possible through appropriate case use to have any word order, verbs almost always come first.
Accent is very hard to detect at times in Parseltongue. It appears that almost all words are emphasized on the first syllable, though pronouns tend to be enclitic. Unusually stress patterns are marked with an acute on the nucleus (e.g. Nagíni).
|j||as /ɪ/||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||ɪɰ||Y||Y||as /ɪ/|
|w||as /ɯ/||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||ɯj||Y||Y||Y||as /ɯ/|
Gemination is indicated by doubling the letter. Like English, Parseltongue has several sounds that are written with two letters, called digraphs. Even more unusual, the pre-nasalized clicks can be written as trigraphs, that is, one sound that takes three letters to write. The Latin alphabet orthography is a mixture of European, African, and Dravidian techniques. The sequence is given below in its full order, with Z-SAMPA transcriptions.
- a is [ä] as in Sally
- ä is [Â] as in father
- b is not used
- c is [c\], much like English 'ch' in church, but not made of two parts (t + sh), and without an accompanying breath-out
- ch is [c\_h]like c, but with the breath of air
- c' is [c\_>]the ejective of c, as in beatboxing
- ç is [C]like 'sh' + 'y' said quickly, as in mesh yet
- d is not used
- e is [e] as in bet
- ë is [E] as in Scottish bet, like the vowel in thanks said rapidly (no diphthong)
- f is [T] as in thin, never they (with the tongue-tip sticking farther out between the teeth)
- g is [X\] like a harsh 'h' said low in the throat
- h is [h] as in harpie (and can end a syllable!)
- also used after p, t, and k to produce aspirated stops
- i is [i] as in sheet
- ï is [I] as in shit
- j is [j] as in "yes" (In Parseltongue, it is like /ɪ/ - not /i/ - made into a consonant)
- k is [k] as in "kit", but without a breath of air
- kh is [k_h] the same as k, but with the breath of air
- k' is [k_>] as in beatboxing 'k'
- l is [l] or [l_d] or [l`] or [L] or [L\] as in lull, but can also be velarized, or dental
- m is [n_d_0] as in tenth
- n is [n_0] as in nun whispered
- ñ is <tt>[J]
- ṇ is [n`_0], like English n but with the tongue tip curled further back.
- ŋ is [N_0], as in sing (but can begin a syllable!)
- A generic n is also used in trigraphs to indicate nasalized clicks
- ö is [Ë] like an English cot without lip-rounding
- p' is [t_d_>], an ejective dental t, as in beatboxing
- ph is [t_d_h]the same as p but with the exhaled breath
- pq is [=\]<tt>, the dental click, like spurring a horse on
- npq is <tt>[n_!]
- ṣ is [S] or [s`] as in shush (without lip-rounding and with the tongue-tip further back)
- t' is [t_>], an ejective 't' as in beatboxing
- th is [t_h] the same as t but with the exhaled breath
- tq is [|\] the alveolar click, like children imitating horses trotting
- ntq is [J_!], the nasalized alveolar click
- ʈ' is [t`_>], an ejective 't' as in beatboxing
- ʈh is [t`_h] the same as ʈ but with the exhaled breath
- ʈq is [!\] the retroflex click
- nʈq is [n`_!]
- ü is [Ï], an unrounded version of cut
- zq is [|\|\]the lateral click
- nzq is [n_7]
- 'h is [?_h] the aspirated glottal stop, if you will uh-ho
- ` is [>\] or [q_<\] the epiglottal stop or the unvoiced ingressive velar stop, like a whispered imitation of swallowing
In India, a method for writing Parseltongue in Devanāgarī arose independently. Some general principles are.
- The avagraha (ऽ) is used for consonants without immediately subsequent vowels.
- The visarga (ः) is used for geminate consonants and long vowels
- The long-vowel symbols were used as -ATR symbols.
- /e/ and /i/ use /ai/ and /au/ as their -ATR symbols.
- The candrabindu/anunāsika is used on nasalized clicks and g, while nukta/anusvāra is a general diacritic.
Ø, Nasals, Fricatives, and Approximants
- The 'p'-series plus nukta makes the /θ̟/ fricative series.
- The nukta becomes an anunāsika to make room in fu and fü.
- The 'kh'-series plus nukta makes the /x/ series.
- The nukta becomes an anunāsika to make room in xu and xü.
- The ळ-series has been utilized to make the lateral (/ɬ/) series.
- The 'h'-series plus candrabindu makes the /ħ/ series.
- The candrabindu becomes an anunāsika to make room in ge, gë, gi, gï, go, and gö.
- The use of 'v' for 'w' is consistent (i.e. there are no 'v's).
Stops and Clicks
- The voiced stops serve as ejectives.
- The aspirated voiced stops serve as clicks.
- The modern glottal stop symbol (ॽ) is used for 'a, or with a visarga for 'ha.
- The ingressive ॻ is used for the epiglottal stop.
- The dantya (ऌ) is used for the lateral click.
- The candrabindu becomes an anunāsika before an e, ë, ï, o, or ö in all cases.