A Lapine rabbit sounds like it should be a cool rabbit breed. But this isn’t the case. What does Lapine mean, and how does it relate to rabbits?
La lapin means a rabbit in French and it can also refer to a male rabbit, or buck, and rabbit fur. Lapine is the French word for a doe or female rabbit, and it’s the language spoken by rabbits in Watership Down, a novel published in 1972. Lapine can also be used to refer to rabbit society.
Curious to learn more about the ever-so-versatile Lapine? We’ve got all the info you’d like to know!
Does Lapine Mean Rabbit?
Lapine is the French word for a female rabbit, while lapin refers to a male rabbit or rabbit fur. Lapine can also describe rabbit society.
Lapine is also the name of the fictional language rabbits speak in Watership Down, a 1972 novel penned by Richard Adam all about rabbits and other animals.
The sequel to the novel was published in 1996 and is called Tales from Watership Down. And Lapine again features as the language spoken by the buns in the tales.
History and Origin of the Word Lapine
The history of the word Lapine can be traced back to these origins:
The French Language
The first use of lapin and lapine was in the 1900s.
It’s a French and Middle French term that quite possibly originated from “laperean rabbit.”
Laperean comes from one of the Ibero Romance languages – Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, and Galician.
Ibero or the Iberian Peninsula consists of modern-day Portugal, Andorra, Spain, Gibraltar, and southern France.
The setting for Watership Down is Berkshire, southern England. The novel tells the story of a group of rabbits that are anthropomorphized. These rabbits have their own mythology, language, and culture (and why not? They really do.).
In essence, the story is about how the rabbits escape when their warren is destroyed and how they are looking for a new place to call home – the hill of Watership Down.
The language the rabbits speak in the novel is called Lapine, and it’s a fictional conlang (constructed language) the author, Richard Adams, created.
The rabbits also speak Lapine in the novel’s sequel and the TV and movie adaptations.
Adams has confirmed that he created the language organically and in a piecemeal fashion according to what he needed for the plot of the book. So when a rabbit needed a Lapine term for something, Adams created it.
The author used onomatopoeia for inspiration for Lapine, and the rest of the made-up language came from his subconscious. He wanted the language to sound “wuffy and fluffy.”
For example, a large warren in Watership Down is called Efrfa, which embodies that wuffiness and fluffiness. You can just imagine the language being spoken by a tall-eared fluffy.
Lapine sounds like it has Welsh, Scottish, Gaelic, Irish, and Arabic influences. Interestingly, many have compared Lapine to Sindarin, the elven language in the Lord of the Rings and Middle-Earth series by JRR Tolkien.
Fragments of Lapine are used in the books. The rabbits mostly use Lapine when calling each other by their names, when talking about objects in their world, and mythology.
Thus, the rabbits mostly speak Standard English, and some lexical terms are specialized Lapine.
The Lapine Language
In Watership Down, the rabbit characters use a combination of formal and colloquial Lapine. Most of their speech is marked with false starts, incomplete sentences, interjections, hesitations, and interruptions.
More than 60% of the sentences are simple sentences and have a sentence length of six words.
Notable characteristics of Lapine are:
- To make words plural, -il is added at the end.
- The cardinal numbers are one to four, and anything more than four is simply described as many (or hrair in Lapine).
- Most of the Lapine words describe concepts that are unique to rabbits, like above-ground grazing is silflay and tonic immobility is tharn.
Some interesting Lapine words are:
- Automobile or any kind of vehicle – hrududu (plural: hrududil)
- Enemies – elil (similar to evil in English)
- Crow – corva
- Homeless rabbit – hlessi
- Fox – homba
- Badger – lendri
- Doe, mother – marli
- Cat – pfeffa
- Hedgehog – yona
- Dog – rowf (like the sound of a dog – woof)
- Food – flay
- Sun – frith
- Rabbit droppings – hraka
- Poison tree – laburnum
- Moon, darkness, fear, death – inlé
- Fur – thlay
- Mountain ash, rowan tree – threat
- Murder, destruction – zorn
- To excrete, pass droppings – vair
- Stinking smell – embleer
- Pleasant, nice – narn
- Excessive fear – tharn
- Prince, leader, chief rabbit – rah
How Does Lapine Relate to Rabbits?
Lapine only relates to rabbits in two ways:
- It’s a French term that refers to a doe, or a female rabbit.
- It’s the language spoken by the rabbits in the novel, Watership Down, its sequel, and TV and movie adaptations.
My Last Bunny Thoughts
Learning the origin of words and how they relate to things we know is quite interesting. Now you know that lapin and lapine are originally French words that refer to a rabbit, male rabbit, and female rabbit.
Lapine is also a language Richard Adams invented while he was writing Watership Down.
Various languages and the sounds associated with words inspired Adams to create such an interesting language that it has even been compared to the fictional language created by JRR Tolkien.