Lapine is a fictional language created by author Richard Adams for his 1972 novel Watership Down, where it is spoken by rabbit characters. The language was again used in Adams' 1996 sequel, Tales from Watership Down, and has appeared in both the film and television adaptations. The fragments of language presented by Adams consist of a few dozen distinct words, and are chiefly used for the naming of rabbits, their mythological characters, and objects in their world. The name "Lapine" comes from the French word for rabbit, lapin, and can also be used to describe rabbit society.
The words of the Lapine language were developed by Adams piecemeal and organically as required by the circumstances of the plot. In a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" interview, Adams noted that "I just constructed Lapine as I went - when the rabbits needed a word for something so did I." Reflecting on his inspirations for the words, Adams stated that "some of them are onomatopoeic like hrududu (motor vehicle), but overall they simply came from my subconscious". Adams commented that the motivation for the sound of Lapine was that it should sound "wuffy, fluffy" as in the word "Efrafa". Writing for The Guardian, Keren Levy described the Lapine language as "somehow easy to accept as [a language] we have always known. It is the language of the countryside, of its copses and beeches and of the weather."
Adams includes a glossary of all Lapine words in the book at the end. Notable traits include the plural marker -il (which replaces a final vowel if it is present in the singular: hrududu, "automobile", pl. hrududil), and the fact that cardinal numbers only go up to four, with any number above that being called hrair, "many", although the runt Hrairoo's name is translated into English as "Fiver" instead. The use of Lapine words is often (although not exclusively) used to indicate concepts unique to rabbits, such as silflay (aboveground grazing) or tharn(tonic immobility).
When speaking to other animals (other than rabbit), the rabbits adopt a lingua franca known as "Hedgerow." However, in both examples given in the book (i.e. the mouse and Kehaar the gull) the conversation reverts to Lapine once initial contact has been established. More specifically, the rabbits adopt formal Lapine and the other animals employ a Lapine Foreigner Talkthat Corder describes as "a reduced code or incipient pidgin".
Lapine: (French) A Rabbit.
- Elil: Enemies (of rabbits) a term that refers to the natural enemies of rabbits (foxes, stoats, badgers, etc) and also to humans, who are regarded as one of the Thousand Enemies. Its use is similar to use of the word "evil" in the English language. The rabbits also know their enemies as "u embleer hrair", Lapine for "the stinking thousand".
- Hlessi: A homeless rabbit without a hole to dwell in. (plural: hlessil)
- Homba: A fox. (plural: hombil)
- Lendri: A badger. (plural: lendril)
- Marli: A doe (female rabbit); also means "mother". Literally, a doe. Figuratively, a mother.
- Pfeffa: A cat. (plural: pfeffil)
- Yona: A hedgehog. (plural: yonil)
- Bob-stones: The Lapine word is unknown, but Adams translates it as "bob stones" and calls it a traditional game among rabbits. A "cast" of stones is on the ground, and covered with a forepaw. The opponent must hazard some sort of guess about its nature
- Flay: Food, e.g. grass or other green fodder.; particularly good food is called flayrah, using the suffix -rah, which literally means "food of princes".
- Frith: The sun, personified as a god by rabbits. Frithrah! is used as an exclamation and translates to "the lord Sun".
- Hlao: Any dimple or depression in the grass, such as that formed by a daisy plant or thistle, which can hold moisture. Also, the name of a rabbit.
- Hrair: Any number greater than four. It is translated to thousand and, less commonly, five. Hrair, combined with elil and the suffix -rah, forms the name Elil-Hrair-Rah: literally, "the prince with a thousand enemies", which is shortened to El-ahrairah, the rabbits' mythological champion and messiah. A great many; an uncountable number; any number above four. U Hrair=The Thousand (enemies).
- Hrairoo: "Little Thousand". The name of Fiver in Lapine.
- Hraka: Droppings, feces
- Hrududu: An onomatopoeic term that refers to any motor vehicle. A tractor, car or any motorvehicle.. (plural: hrududil)
- Inlé: The moon; also the idea of darkness, fear or death (as in the "Black Rabbit of Inlé"). Fu Inlé is used to refer to "after moonrise". Literally, the moon; also moonrise. But a second meaning carries the idea of darkness, fear and death.
- Laburnum: Poison tree, also the name of a rabbit.
- Ni-Frith: Noon
- Rah: A prince or leader or chief rabbit.; usually used as a suffix, e.g. Threarah means "Lord Threar".
- Sayn: Groundsel
- Silf: Outside, outdoors
- Thlay: Fur
- Threar: A rowan tree, or mountain ash.
- Thrennion: Berries of a rowan tree, also a rabbit.
- Zorn: Destruction or murder; can also denote catastrophe, suffered a catastrophe.
- Silflay: A term used for both grass used for grazing and the act of grazing itself. To go above ground to feed. Literally, to feed outside. Also used as a noun.
- Vair: To excrete, to pass droppings.
- Embleer: An adjective translated to stinking, specifically referring to the smell of a fox. Stinking, as in the smell of a predator, esp. a fox.
- Narn: An adjective denoting nice or pleasant, often in terms of food. Pleasant to eat.
- Roo: Used as a suffix to denote a dimunitive, e.g. Hrairoo. A diminutive, usually affectionate. Suffixed.
- Tharn: Petrified with fear, i.e. "deer in headlights".