37

The spells that we know about in the Harry Potter world all seem to be either in Latin, derived from Latin, or resembling Latin. This makes sense for the European World, but there were likely witches and wizards in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. These cultures would have developed independently, and the magical people in them would likely have still found ways to cast their spells.

Do cultures with languages that did not derive from Latin use the same words and phrases that are related to Latin for their spells? Or did they have other phrases based on the languages in their cultures?

  • 1
    The witches in the Americas (modern NA, at least) came from Britain and would have used the same spells. – Kevin Apr 11 '12 at 14:18
  • @Kevin: Well, after Europeans started coming to America -- but what about anyone that lived here before that who was magical? – Tango Apr 11 '12 at 14:22
  • 1
    @Kevin: Are you sure you specified "modern?" But I just posted that as a question: Were there magical people in non-European areas before Europeans arrived, or did all magical bloodlines originate in Europe? – Tango Apr 11 '12 at 14:31
  • 1
    I don't see why this was closed. Seems on-topic and valid to me. – Beofett Apr 18 '12 at 14:10
  • 1
    @Rob: Not in the books, but I've found that JKR has addressed MANY topics over the years in her talks and online chat sessions. – Tango Apr 18 '12 at 16:25
26
  • We don't know for sure, but we know for certain that it was not necessarily Latin based

    • Ancient Egypt has wizards long before Roman empire. Bill Weasley dealt with the consequences professionally.

    • Ancient Greece had wizards

    • Based on newly revealed details about Newt Scamander prequels, Native Americans had wizards and traditions, which from my understanding are separate from European ones.

  • However, it may be that most of them are out of some old language, by JKR's out-of-universe design:

    I enjoy feeling that wizards would continue to use this dead language in their everyday life." ("About the Books: transcript of J.K. Rowling's live interview on Scholastic.com," Scholastic.com, 16 October 2000)

    "It just amused me, the idea that wizards would still be using Latin as a living language, although it is, as scholars of Latin will know ... I take great liberties with the language for spells. I see it as a kind of mutation that the wizards are using." (Rogers, Shelagh. "INTERVIEW: J.K. Rowling," Canadian Broadcasting Co., October 23, 2000)

  • Also, judging by the fact that words aren't strictly speaking necessary (see both children's accidental magic, and non-verbal magic taught for dueling), most likely a word - like a wand - is just a method to concentrate your mind and make it think the "right" thing. While that's my personal speculation, it's the only thing that makes sense give the way Potterverse wopks. Sort of a reverse-Sapir–Whorf hypothesis :)

    Because a wand, in my world, is merely a vehicle -- a vessel for what lies inside the person. (JKR - An Evening with Harry, Carrie and Garp)

    And if that's true, then the spells other cultures use probably use equivalent words in their own language.

  • If spells are merely vessels though, why would the pronunciation matter? Remember, in the first book Ron was having trouble with Wingardium Leviosa because he wasn't saying it properly. – alexgbelov Jul 20 '17 at 0:24
  • 1
    @alexgbelov Why wouldn’t it matter? Spells are complex things: they have particular affinities to different people, different wands, different types of magic—Ollivander mentions that Lily’s wand was “excellent for charm work” (presumably Voldemort’s was excellent for nasty work), for example. So why wouldn’t a particular spell also have a special affinity to a particular incantation? – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 20 '17 at 10:08
  • 2
    Could be the other way around; perhaps Latin was influenced by wizardkind. – Harry Johnston Oct 10 '17 at 0:08
13

I couldn't find an official answer, so this is a combination of guesswork and theorizing, but here it goes:

First of all, not all of the spells in Harry Potter originate from Latin. For example, Alohomora is a combination of a Hawaiian and a Latin word originates from "a West African word that meant 'friendly to thieves.'"

Therefore, witches and wizards from different parts of the world probably exchanged spells among each other. Having broomsticks, Portkeys, and being able to apparate would have allowed members of the magical community to travel to different countries, so I doubt that witches and wizards were as isolated as you would think. It would not be impossible, and as there are some spells with non-Latin roots, it is probable that witches and wizards exchanges spells that had Latin origins, and that these spells were used worldwide.

Also, I doubt that we have seen all of the spells in the Harry Potter universe, and there probably are significant amounts of spells that do not have Latin roots that we have not seen yet. That would explain why the majority of spells have Latin roots.

In addition, in the Triwizard tournament, Victor Krum cast the Cruciatus Curse on Cedric, which is a curse frequently used by British wizards. Victor Krum was from Bulgaria (which is in Europe, but it was the only reference that I could find to a foreign wizard audibly casting a spell), and while he was under the Imperius curse when that happened, it is some evidence that foreign wizards might use the same spells as British wizards.

Keep in mind, though, that there is a lot of magic that wizards can perform without using incantations, such as Occulemency, and a lot of magic performed by underage wizards who don't have access to wants (like Tom Riddle and Harry Potter). Incantations could be less popular in other parts of the world, where they could use other forms of magic.

It's not really clear how spells are created, anyway, so nobody will really know the answer to this unless JKR does another interview and explains it.

  • 3
    A good point - Muggle cultures were isolated until technology allowed them to travel farther and farther, but magical individuals had no such limitations. – hairboat Apr 21 '12 at 21:38
  • 8
    Here's some canon evidence that the actual incantation does matter a lot. From PS/SS: "Now, don't forget that nice wrist movement we've been practicing!" squeaked Professor Flitwick [...] "And saying the magic words properly is very important, too -- never forget Wizard Baruffio, who said 's' instead of 'f' and found himself on the floor with a buffalo on his chest." And remember Sectumsempra, which Harry can use without knowing what it actually does, just knowing the incantation. – Hendrik Vogt Apr 22 '12 at 7:14
  • @HendrikVogt good point: just edited my answer. – user1807 Apr 22 '12 at 13:13
  • 4
    Alohomora is, according to this answer: scifi.stackexchange.com/a/5098/6428 , from the the West African Sidiki. – 11684 Sep 11 '12 at 15:28
  • @11684 thank you, fixed (3 years late, but never late than never). – user1807 Dec 13 '15 at 2:18
0

The moment i saw the question Luna Lovegood's mother came to my mind. If Luna would elaborate a bit! So there goes my guesswork too.

Magic lies in the blood, not in the brain. Think about all the other magical creatures. Goblins, Elf, centaurs. I'm pretty much sure they don't use Latin, or any other specific human language. Their magic is different, but that is a clue that magic spells can be foreign languages.

Wizard kids can do magic without a wand and casting spell. No matter how weak they are, it may be the clue that names of spells and specific "movement" are for channeling the magic only.

As a programmer, i remember using function name for getting square root. Underneath the function, there can be more programming language. Think like them as Latin. But that's not end of the story because machine code lies at the very end. So i think any specific language is not the mandatory thing to cast spell. Most spells are latin because spell inventors follow it. Think of it as a scientific naming convention.

-2

Well, since the Roman Empire spanned from the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea and from Great Britain to Sudan it would make sense that a great part of the Eurasian Continent would use Greco-Latin based spells. Let's not forget Roman Legions conquered new lands and then brought settlers with them, fouding numerous new cities or modernizing them in the process. It's not far fetched to think there were wizards amongst the SETTLERS , and that not only did they bring latin for spell incantions but also the use of wands as a magical focus(not exclusive to Rome). There may be a thousand different magical focii or fucusing rituals to cast spells, but using magic wands may be the simplest and the fastest. Many of the people conquered by Rome eventually adopted many their customs, this wouldn't be any different.

Then European nations heir to the Roman Empire discovered and conquered the rest of the world and the same pattern may have happened in the Americas,Africa, Asia and Oceania: conquest followed by settlers including wand wielding, latin incantating wizards and witches.

Considering the timeline I would even go as far as saying that most existing spells, are spoken in anything but Latin, if I had to take a guess I'd say latin amounts to 15% or 20% of all existing spells.Don't worry, many other incanting languages exist: Gallic, Coptic, Hebrew, Aramaic, Akkadian, Summerian (Avada Kedavra), Phoenician,etc...for all we know there could be Atlantean spells!

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.