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Unit 02: The Past Tense; Measuring Time

Every instant of time is a pinprick of eternity.
(Marcus Aurelius, Meditations)

What I have called "the past tense" corresponds to the English "I sang", "they ran" and so on, though in fact the structure I am describing here is more like the imperfect ("I was singing" etc). This is the main way of expressing events in the past in colloquial Lapine.

We saw in Unit 01 how to form the present tense by means of the verb lay, "to be". The "past marker" in Lapine is the ending -nt and (unlike practically every other language around!) lay is regular, meaning that "was" translates as laynt. We already know the personal pronouns (for a reminder, see Unit 01), so it's a simple matter to form past tense sentences. Before we do that, though, let's look at something else: time. Rabbits don't have clocks, of course, but we do need to know how to measure the passage of time, and indeed Lapine has quite a complex system of such words and phrases. Here is a selection of the most common words - we'll meet others later in the course:

The words than, ni- and fu refer to "before", "mid-" and "after" respectively. Note that ni-, unlike the other two, attaches itself to the following word, so that we have ni-Frith, "midday", but fu Frith "morning" (lit. "after sunrise"). Than is what is known as a "false friend", a word which appears, but is not, the same as one in English. Remember to pronounce it with the hard "th" of "think"! These words can be put together:

fu ni-Frith - afternoon
ni-fu ni-Frith - mid-afternoon
or even than fu ni-Frith - before [the] afternoon!

There are a few special cases:

thanléao - evening (literally "before night")
fuléao - dawn ("after night")
nInlé (note spelling) - midnight

(Actually, nInlé really ought to mean "at the zenith of the moon", but it actually means "midnight", and can in fact refer to any time which would be described as "the middle of the night".) Now then, a load more vocab for you:

neorsé - a little while
fu neorsé - after a little while
hithra - a long while
léao - night
hyao - day

Hyao can also mean "once [upon a time]", and is often seen in the set (and fossilised) phrase hyao, ver sie methai, meaning (roughly) "once, so they say" (meth means "to speak, to say"), which is the traditional way in which to begin a story.

hrudao - year
Inlérao - month (not Inlé-rah, which is a different kettle of fish entirely!)
marlao - week

You might be surprised to learn that rabbits do have a word for "week" - marlao. This literally means "doe time", because does are particularly receptive for mating about every seven days. If you add u before most of these words, combining with a past tense sentence, you can convey an idea of how long ago something happened - u Inlérao can mean "a month ago", and so on.

Finally, here are the names of the seasons - the derivations should be fairly obvious but I've explained them anyway:

Nangeer - spring ("leaf season")
Fritheer - summer ("Frith's season")
Hombeer - autumn ("fox season")
Eleer - winter ("evil season")

Note that u Eleer can mean "in the winter" or "a winter ago", depending on context.

Now for some sample sentences - from now on, I'll generally only give the colloquial translation to save space. Some of the sentences are a bit nonsensical, but they'll give you the idea.

English - Lapine

[LISTEN] After a little while (before midday), he ate the nice groundsel - Fu neorsé (than ni-Frith), e laynt flay u sayn narn
[LISTEN] In the spring, the cats watched at night - U Nangeer, u pfeffil laynt hay u léao
[LISTEN] Stinking winter! [A favourite catchphrase] - Embleer Eleer! (Remember: embleer precedes the noun - see Unit 01)
[LISTEN] Once upon a time, a badger said "Great Frith!" - Hyao, ver sie methai, lendri laynt meth "Frithrah!"
[LISTEN] After a week, they saw a tharn pheasant - Fu marlao, ai laynt hay hawock tharn
[LISTEN] I saw a small pike a day ago [ie yesterday] - A laynt hay aydir roo u hyao

Note that hay can mean "watch" as well as "see". Next time, we'll be looking at how to form the future tense. Until then, it's Frithaes!