In the Potterverse we see house elves speak broken English. Winky is the best example

House elves does what they is told. I is not liking heights at all, Harry Potter...but my master sends me to the top and I comes, sir.

But in fact they all speak oddly. Given the fact that most of them seem to live in British families for their whole lives it is strange they can't speak properly.

I can see two reasons why a person would speak broken language:

  1. They are not native speakers
  2. Their IQ does not allow them to grab the complicated grammar

In case of house elves we can consider both reasoning. Or can we?..

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    Presumably they're expected to teach themselves English rather than being taught it by the families they serve, hence their "subservient lower class" mode of speech would persist for generations.
    – Valorum
    Sep 26, 2018 at 8:37
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    3. House-elves speak correct Magical English, even though wizards don't any more (probably because of too much contact with Muggles). Sep 26, 2018 at 9:00
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    @Polygnome I would not call it "self-taught" because it's not like they study a foreign language for a purpose. They just pick it from the very childhood as their native language. Thus how they can pick it incorrectly? They might use more simple and basic language - true, but it should still be English, not just a mixture of English words.
    – Shana Tar
    Sep 26, 2018 at 9:04
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    @shanatar - they would pick it up from other house-elves, who they’d be in contact with when young and who would be actively teaching them... the accents of other beings (like wizards) would not necessarily be relevant... and really would be like learning a foreign language. As for why the elder house elves speak broken English, that may have a number of historical reasons, including English not being their original native tongue or lack of language lessons (which children do get in their “native” language)
    – Megha
    Sep 27, 2018 at 6:34
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    We only see a few house elves speak, but their speech is actually very consistent. There is nothing to suggest that they struggle with the grammar at all – their grammar is just different from standard English. They also speak about themselves in the third person, use names instead of pronouns, which is not a grammatical thing, but a semantic thing. I would conclude that they speak a different variant of English, which they learn from their parents, and which is similar enough to standard English that they continue to speak it throughout their lives. Sep 27, 2018 at 16:52

3 Answers 3


Based on mundane world examples of broken English, the likely explanation for it starting is that the House Elves have, or had, their own language, and English was basically grafted onto it. It's been said that as long as you can communicate, broken language may be less aesthetically pleasing, but it's not wrong. In early Human / House Elf interaction, having any sort of common language would be a benefit.

As to why it's persisted, this often happens in the mundane world as a form of cultural identity, with some pidgins or creoles becoming their own dialect, c.f. Black Vernacular, Jamaican English, or Louisiana Creole. The usage of non-standard (to use) English is a way of establishing that you are indeed separate from the culture you live in. A somewhat uglier interpretation is that the Wizards prefer the Elves to speak in this Broken English because it clearly delineates the difference in society and, in their mind, the superiority of Wizards, justifying the slave labor, and the Elves go along with it because it smooths their way to speak "correctly" according to what their master wants.

Taking this a step further, Rowling probably used the Broken English trope (warning, TV Tropes link) to emphasize the power inequality between Wizards and their House Elves in the same way that prior books have given Black or Asian sidekicks agrammatic English.

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    Or, they speak agrammatically because they are comic relief sidekick characters (at least when first introduced), and those frequently speak agrammatically. "Mesa Jar Jar Binks" anyone?
    – Kai
    Sep 26, 2018 at 12:47
  • That is true. Sometimes, it's just a matter of humor, or to appeal to children with baby talk.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Sep 26, 2018 at 13:02
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    A somewhat uglier interpretation is that the Wizards prefer the Elves to speak in this Broken English because it clearly delineates the difference in society and, in their mind, the superiority of Wizards Not really relevant but this is kind of like it plays out between Nobles and Peasants in ASOIAF too. Clean speech of nobles is considered their distinguishing trait and nobles often laugh on how "stupid" the peasants are to think that M'lord is one word, not two along with other grammatical errors etc etc.
    – Aegon
    Sep 26, 2018 at 13:15
  • @Kai harry potter is a real world, nothing in it is because it is a book and that worked well eye roll
    – WendyG
    Sep 26, 2018 at 14:33
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    @Kai They don’t speak agrammatically, though: their speech is very consistent and follows what seems to be a perfectly cromulent grammar – it’s just different from English. This is in opposition to Jar Jar Binks and Yoda, whose speech slows little internal consistency and can be said to be agrammatical. Sep 28, 2018 at 15:17

In my opinion, the house elves not speaking proper English is to symbolize slavery. Back when slavery was legal slaves were not allowed to have an education, they were pretty much considered the bottom of the totem pole. With house elves, they are considered to be pieces of property not valued members of the house hold. There really is no reason for them to have an education if their sole purpose in life is to serve their master. When Lucius meets with Harry at the end of Chamber of Secrets and Harry frees Dobbie Lucius treats Dobbie like his property.


Explanation 3: The conditions under which house elves live and work make it harder for them to order their thoughts.

We already know that house elves face varying levels of chronic abuse. Getting hit over the head a lot makes it hard to think straight.

It is also known that a house elf literally cannot disobey an order from his/her family. The magic that brings this about cannot help but interfere with proper mental functioning.

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