Tuesday 22nd January

Francis Nolan, Professor of Phonetics at Cambridge University, came to talk to the Modern Languages Society about his work designing the invented language ‘Parseltongue’ for the Harry Potter films. He began by giving us an insight into phonetics and into how it came about that he was commissioned for the Parseltongue job. He went on to explain the considerations he had to make when designing phrases in a language spoken by snakes. For example, he thought the language should include ‘fricative’ consonants to create sounds reminiscent of a snake’s hissing. Meanwhile, he avoided using plosive sounds because snakes have no lips. Professor Nolan went on to explain his chosen grammatical and syntactical structure of the new language. He based some of the grammar on the complicated systems of Estonian and Finnish, and even drew from Basque- famously one of the world’s most difficult languages, dissimilar to most others because of its ‘ergative’ composition- when deciding upon the sentence structure.

The talk in the Egerton Room was well attended, and drew a large number of questions from the audience afterwards.

George Robarts OS (NJR)