Lapine

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Lapine
Created byRichard Adams
Date1972
SettingWatership Down
Tales from Watership Down

Lapine is a conlang spoken by British rabbits in Richard Adams' 1972 novel Watership Down. Very little vocabulary is given, and, at least within the book, no guide to pronunciation nor implication of a native script exists. The name derives from French lapin ("rabbit").

It is written in a very English-looking use of the Latin script, with the exception of the character é, which appears to be the only use of any diacriticals in the transcriptions. One may assume this is to establish the vowel quality as closer to /ei/ than, say, /i/ - but for all we know this could have to do with stress or pitch or simply aesthetics. Arabic has been cited as an inspiration, but the phonological resemblance is unclear, if present at all.

Introduction

The words tend to be incorporated into English sentences, so only vestiges of the original grammar remain. Some derivational morphology is clear: a couple of personal names show noun compounding, as well as the derivational suffixes -rah (augmentative) and -roo (diminutive). The verb silflay ("to feed outside") is especially valuable in this regard, as it comes from silf ("outside") + flay ("food"), and thus shows not only a verb derived from a compound of words in two other parts of speech, but also eliminates the double f that one would expect (especially surprising given that <ff> is indeed legal, as in pfeffa ("cat").) Noun plurals are always formed by replacing the final vowel with -il, although some nouns end with a consonant, and it is unclear how these would be pluralised. The words Frith ("sun") and Inlé ("moon") are prefixed to form ni-Frith ("noon") and fu-Inlé ("after moonrise"), but the exact meanings of the temporal prefixes is unclear.

Grammar

Some parts of Lapine grammar, like syntax and conjugation, are generally hidden by embedding the words in English. One couplet serves to give the only information that readers get about those two features in the book:

Hoi, hoi u embleer Hrair
M'saion ulé hraka vair.
Translated:
"Hoi, hoi, the stinking Thousand
We meet them even when we stop to pass our droppings."

Among the information hidden here is that adjectives precede the nouns they modify and do not change form, and objects precede their verbs (so SOV may be inferred). M'saion remains mysterious - does it encode both the subject and the object as it would seem (so "we meet them") like Klingon does, and if so can we assume that Lapine is pro-drop? Is saion the lemma form?

Rabbit culture infuses the meagre vocabulary, like the implication that hrair means both "five" and "thousand" because rabbits cannot count beyond four. (The biological validity of that statement is beside the point, but it is reasonable.) Rabbits evidently also communicate with other animals in a language called Hedgerow Vernacular, which is translated to suggest that it is a kind of pidgin. It is clearly based on Lapine, and preserves some of the lexical features like marli, which can mean both "doe" [i.e. female rabbit] and "mother", but it lacks fundamental features of Lapine, like the definite article.