Theiling Online    Sitemap    Conlang Mailing List HQ   

Reconstructed Lapine

From:Josh Brandt-Young <vionau@...>
Date:Saturday, August 17, 2002, 20:02
Well! After more than two years without a single conlang-related post,
here's a nice long one. This is a reconstruction (completed about four years
ago) of the language used by the rabbits in "Watership Down" by Richard
Adams; though I tried to wring every possible bit of grammar out of his
examples, be advised that the following contains a fair bit of invention. :)

The grammar contains quite a few tables and thus would be best viewed in a
monospaced font.



Because the articulatory organs of rabbits and humans are very different,
the phonology of Lapine as it is herein described is clearly not
representative of the way it is pronounced by true rabbits in the wild. I
can only assume that the phonemes represent, rather than sounds found in the
IPA table, a series of sounds (or perhaps even gestures; I cannot say, for I
am no expert in Lapine physiology) that rabbits can, and hopefully do,
produce. Nevertheless, for purposes of accessibility, I here provide a guide
(based on Richard Adams's evidence) so that humans can pronounce and thereby
employ this fascinating language.


i   y   u      [i]  [y]  [u]
e       o                        [E]       [O]
    a               [a]


ai [aj]    ao [aw]    ay [&j]
ei [Ej]
oi [Oj]    ou [Ow]    ow [Qw]


p  t  k      [p]  [t]  [k]
m  n  ng     [m]  [n]  [N]
f  th h      [f]  [T]  [h]
   d              [d]
mb nd        [mb] [nd]

s  z      [s]  [z]
l  r      [l]  [r]
lh rh     [K]  [r_0]
y  v/w    [j]  [w]

Note that geminated forms exist for most consonants.


Stress is quite variable in Lapine. For most vowel-final words, it falls on
the penult ('marli, 'lhessi, &c.); words ending in a vowel with final stress
are marked with an accute accent (ulé, inlé); and some words exist which
carry propenultimate stress ('efrafa). Words which are consonant-final in
their nominative singular form are more likely to have stressed final

In compound words, two stress paradigms exist: the base word is stressed
when compounding is attributive to the base (thethuthin'nang, El-arhai'rah);
when, however, the junction of lexemes serves to form a *new* word, the
stress is applied to the word as a single unit ('hyzenthlay, 'thlayli).



The definite article is "u," and must be applied to *every* definite noun,
even in direct address. No singular indefinite article exists, though there
is one in the plural: "thi-" is prefixed to the word, and the initial
consonant is geminated if it is a fricative or a sonorant; if a plosive, the
corresponding homorganic nasal is prefaced. Examples:

nang "leaf," thinnang "some leaves"
lhessi "vagabond," thillhessi "some vagabonds"
pfeffa "cat," thimpfeffa "some cats"


              -a        -i       -u        -C
           SG   PL   SG   PL   SG   PL   SG   PL
existent   -a  -il   -i  -il   -u  -il   --  -il
  inside  -as  -is  -es  -is  -os  -us  -es  -is
 outside  -an  -en  -en  -in  -on  -un  -en  -in
  absent  -am  -em  -em  -im  -om  -um  -em  -in
   state  -ar  -ir  -er  -ir  -or  -ur  -ar  -ir

to:   "i" (i + u = il)
from: "o" (o + u = ou)

in Efrafa = u éfrafas
to (the inside of) Efrafa = il éfrafas
from inside Efrafa = ou éfrafas

The direct object is unmarked; the adjectival is formed by placing the
modifier immediately before the head; all other cases are indicated by


    SG     PL
1p  tha     ni
2p  ki      tu
3p  sa (s') ma (m')

In contrast to the usual syntax (see below), when a pronoun is the direct
object of a verb, it precedes rather than follows that verb: m'saion "we
meet them." The indefinite pronoun is "sie"; the neuter pronoun is "so."


Possession as it exists in English is almost entirely absent from Lapine.
This is because their culture does not make possible the "ownership" of the
surrounding world as it does in Western cultures. There is no way to say
such things as "my tree" or "I have a rock"; possession is limited to body
parts, family members and places of residence.

For body parts, possession is implied when the noun in question is made
definite; more specificity can be provided as follows: u thlay than "the
hair on me" would be translated "my hair."

Family members and the words "burrow" and "warren" are made possessive by
certain non-productive permutations to the basic form: "marli" means "a
mother," but "my mother" is "nala." These forms are extremely irregular, as
seen below:

     SG     PL
1p  nala   noula
2p  miera  erri
3p  mayli  ayla

The word "warren" behaves similarly, except that only plural forms exist.
Note that there is no verb of possession in Lapine.


The relative pronoun in Lapine is simply "ve," declined as wolud be
expected. Example of usage: yona i ven hainai flay "the hedgehog to whom
they are singing is eating."


There are two gerundial forms in Lapine: past and present. They are declined
as nouns, and derived as follows:

present: -thu
   past: -nti


There are three types of adjectives in Lapine: those indicating degree
(extending across a spectrum), called "quantitative"; those describing
qualities not present across a spectrum, called "qualitative"; and those
indicating relation to some type of action, called "participial."

Rabbits do not see qualities like good and bad, hot and cold, &c. to be
isolated descriptors; rather, they see an entire spectrum of quality or
temperature, and note where the thing in question fits on that scale. Some
adjectives are perceived according to what could be most accurately
described as a cyclical approach to quality, following the curvature of the
yin-yang; for "happy" by itself has no meaning, but one must state in which
direction from equilibrium the happiness is moving. For example (with "sea"

lhesea "very hungry, moving towards satiation"
 misea "slightly hungry, moving towards further hunger"
 hasea "at equilibrium--neither hungry nor full"
 kusea "very full, moving towards hunger"
 nosea "sated, moving towards fullness."

Adjectives like "wooden," however, exist neither across a scale nor a cycle,
and thus are represented simply by the ablative of a corresponding noun
(e.g., a house from wood).

Participles change verbs to adjectives (not to be confused with gerunds);
there are six endings for tense and passivity:

pres. act.:  -eir        pres. pas.:  -oun
past  act.:  -iar        past  pas.:  -oin
fut.  act.:  -lta        fut.  pas.:  -sti



    SG    PL
1p  -a   -on
2p  -i   -es
3p (-o)  -ai

When used after a conjugating particle (such as for tense or negation, as
seen below), the ending is an optional "e."


In their unaltered form, verbs are naturally imperfect. In order for them to
have a perfective meaning, they must be slightly inflected. The change is as

vowel-final roots add -s-
consonant-final roots add -t-

This addition forms the perfective stem.


The following particles are conjugated for person and number, and prefaced
to the verbal root which becomes uninflected.

    SG    PL
1p  hya   hyon
2p  hyi   hyes
3p  hyo   hyai

    SG    PL
1p  ra    ron
2p  ri    res
3p  ro    rai

    SG    PL
1p  rha   rhon
2p  rhi   rhes
3p  rho   rhai


As with the above, there are two parts to the negative construction: the
conjugated negative particle and the verbal root. The former is conjugated
as follows:

    SG    PL
1p  la    lon
2p  li    les
3p  lo    lai

The verbal root is simple the stem, unless pronunciation is complicated by a
consonant cluster in which event an "-e" is suffixed. Negation with tense
particles is exactly the same: la rhe hain "I will not sing." Note that the
verbal root is also the imperative.


El-arhairah ao Aydir
    Hyao, ver sie methai, El-arhairah hyo zayn il lhienes athleer toi
thayrte silhé ves lhonai a nosea aydir ielha. Lha hye thlimor vay hahean
alori lay na naylte lhoonthoir, ve thles il los. U aydir h'eathint i son,
thrays a s'ohent oflurether. Fu neorsé, so hye lirhint il olha a El-arhairah
oheatht a thynte haorsé hai ar s'ithles. Fu hithra o ne, u aydir hyo
marhunte, a koi s'faos me naithil, El-arhairah lha h'irhevas a hent il

El-ahraira and the Pike
    Once, so they say, El-ahraira had to get home by crossing a river in
which there was a large and hungry pike. He combed himself until he had
enough fur to cover a clay rabbit, which he pushed into the water. The pike
rushed at it, bit it and left it in disgust. After a little, it drifted to
the bank and El-ahraira dragged it out and waited a while before pushing it
in again. After an hour of this, the pike left it alone, and when it had
done so for the fifth time, El-ahraira swam across himself and went home.

I know I've got a gloss for this somewhere; if anyone's interested I'll dig
it out.

Josh Brandt-Young <vionau@...>
"After the tempest I behold, once more, the weasel."
(Mispronunciation of Ancient Greek)