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Unit 13: Frith's Great Blessing of El-ahrairah

'Tis not for mortals always to be blest.
(John Armstrong, The Art of Preserving Health)

This is going to be the a long Unit, and quite hard going at times, but if you glance at the title, I think you'll agree that it'll be worth it! That's right, Lapineers, by the end of this Unit you'll be able to say perhaps the single most memorable passage from Watership Down entirely in Lapine - and inflected Lapine at that. But first, some more prosaic stuff: a great barrowload of vocab!

hlal - to catch
hrarail - to chase (lit. "to run to")
fran - to fight
zyhl - to kill (same word as "to finish")
paf - to warn (same word as "to stamp")
kasrah - to trick
natal - empty (of)
vatal - full (of)
vaorah - blessing (lit. "great goodness")
hraeth - all, every(thing/one)
seth - some
ethsi - a few (lit. "one-two")

a) Notice the very unusual combination ae (previously encountered here only in Frithaes itself) in the word hraeth - this is because it derives from hrair eth, "thousand one", ie "every one".
b) Remember the -alt suffix from Unit 11? Good - then you'll have worked out for yourself that kasrahalt means "cunning", "cleverness", etc. However, there's a slight irregularity to learn here - the same word is also used for the adjectives, rather than (as one might expect) a word such as *kasrahay.
c) One of the few times in colloquial Lapine when you have a genuine choice of words is in translating "everyone" - both hrair and hraeth are usually acceptable, though hraeth is very slightly more formal. Use whichever is clearest, and fits better for the purpose required.
d) Note the -rah ending to kasrah, showing how highly prized trickery is among rabbits.

I'll also introduce here an extremely useful suffix, -essi, which when attached (without the hyphen) to a verb equates to the English suffix "-er". For example, hayessi means "watcher", and is the word used for a lookout: Pipkin was a hayessi in the first visit to Nuthanger Farm. This suffix also explains the slightly irregular hlessi, which comes from hlaf-essi, "top-er" - ie, a rabbit who lives on top of the ground. (You'd think it might be silfessi, "outside-er", but no: that means "outskirter".) If the base verb ends in a vowel (eg hla, "to swim"), then use -nessi instead - so hlanessi means "swimmer".

We're almost ready for the Big One, then. But first, I need to point out that, as part of a traditional tale, the Blessing is usually told in Inflected Lapine (Naylte Éan - "Old Rabbit"), as opposed to Colloquial Lapine (Naylte Hyao - "Today's Rabbit"). What I'm going to do here, though, is to provide the passage in three versions: firstly, the usual English version, then a straightforward colloquial rendering, and finally the fully inflected version, which will include an explanation of some of the grammatical points. I'll provide both Lapine versions with a literal translation, partly to make things easier for you, and partly so that you can see a little of how the inflected language works (beyond what I provided way back in Unit 01).

Two somewhat archaic words you'll need to know for this are ela and blaeth. The first is the singular of elil, but is never used in the colloquial tongue, and even in the inflected version tends to be confined to the older stories such as this one. Blaeth (note that ae combination again - it's less rare in the inflected language) means "whenever". Colloquial Lapine simply uses blair, "when" for this, perhaps because blaeth might be confused with bleth ("what"). Okay then, here we go!

1: Normal English version:

And Frith called after El-ahrairah:

"All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning, and full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed."

2: Naylte Hyao


U Vaorah Frith il El-ahrairah

A Frith laynt meth il El-ahrairah:

"Hraeth lay zayn elil mi, Rah asith Hrair Elil, a blair ai lay hlal mi, ai lay zayn zyhl mi. An ethile ai lay zayn drao hlal mi, skufessi, uthowessi, hrayessi, rah asith u paf hraray. Lay kasrahalt, a koi hrair kasrahil, a nayltil mi lay nahl-nyt zayn zorn."

Word-by-word English translation:

The Blessing Frith to El-ahrairah

And Frith was saying to El-ahrairah:

"Everyone be going enemies you, Prince with Thousand Enemies, and when they be catching you, they be going killing you. But first they be going must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the warning fast. Be clever, and have thousand tricks, and rabbits you be never going destroyed."

3: Naylte Éan


U Vaorah ol Frith il El-ahrairah

A Methante Frith il El-ahrairah:

"Laythe hraeth ela mi, Elil Hrair Rah, a blaeth m'hlalthai, m'zyhlthai. An m'draothai ethile hlal, skufessi, uthowessi, hrayessi, paf hraray rah. Laythi kasrahalt, a vatal kasrahil, a laythai nayltil mi nahl-nyt zorn."

Word-by-word English translation:

The Blessing of Frith to El-ahrairah

And it/he-said Frith to El-ahrairah:

"It/he-will-be everyone enemy you, Enemies Thousand Prince, and when you they-will-catch, you they-will-kill. But you they-will-have-to first catch, digger, listener, runner, warning fast prince. You-will-be clever, and full tricks, and they-will-be rabbits you never destroyed."

Linguistic notes:

Well, this version of Lapine looks pretty odd, doesn't it? And indeed it is, by the standards of the language we've been learning in this course. The title is easy enough - the only difference from Colloquial Lapine being the inclusion of ol, which is generally omitted in day-to-day speech. After that, though, things get rather more difficult. The most obvious difference is in the main verb of each clause. Firstly, you'll see that its form varies according to not only the tense (the verb includes (a)nt for past, nothing for present, and (a)th for future), but also the person of the subject (right at the end, after the tense marker, if any).

As it happens, though, the very first part of the speech throws up a complication on this very point. The subject here is hraeth, "everyone" - which you'd think would be a "they" idea, producing an -ai suffix, so making the first word laythai. But it's not - it's laythe. Why? Well, here, "everyone" is being lumped together as a single entity for poetic reasons, as can be seen by the unusual singular ela (and, indeed, the singular "enemy" in the English version). So in this very specific case, "everyone" is an "it", rather than a "they" - hence the -e termination.

The other major change regarding the verbs is in the word order - the verb goes at the start of a clause, preceded by only conjunctions and object pronouns. In all but the first occurrence here, the object pronoun has been shortened to m' because the person (mi) has already been established in the first few words - "all the world will be
your enemy". (Another example of this usage is in Watership Down itself - m'saion. Maybe Bigwig does take grammar lessons after all!)

An interesting change from the Colloquial version is the word laythi, which here is indicating a grammatical structure absent from English: a future imperative. In other words, Frith is telling El-ahrairah not just to be cunning and full of tricks
now, but in the future too.

The word asith ("with") tends to be avoided in traditional tales, as it's considered somewhat ugly (which I suppose it is, if that sort of thing matters to you) - instead, nouns and adjectives are all lumped together, with word order being used to convey the meaning of the sentence or clause. On which subject, hrair, like other number words, precedes the noun in Colloquial Lapine, but in the inflected dialect it is treated as an ordinary adjective, so goes afterwards. This is why we get Elil Hrair Rah rather than Hrair Elil Rah.

Oh, and yes, m'zyhlthai is indeed a nightmare to pronounce! Still, no-one ever said this was an easy dialect!

Almost time to end this Unit, but let's indulge ourselves by having one more look at Frith's Great Blessing (minus the "and Frith called after El-ahrairah" bit) in all its Inflected Lapine glory. If rabbits had books of quotations, this is the version that would be in there. Do have a go at learning it: I think you'll get a fair bit of satisfaction out of so doing. Yes, it's rather difficult language to understand at times, but so is that of the King James Bible, and most people, whether believers or not, would agree that that book's English has great power and beauty. It's not a bad analogy, actually: the Blessing is, after all, at the very heart of Lapine religion. So, enjoy!

"Laythe hraeth ela mi, Elil Hrair Rah, a blaeth m'hlalthai, m'zyhlthai. An m'draothai ethile hlal, skufessi, uthowessi, hrayessi, paf hraray rah. Laythi kasrahalt, a vatal kasrahil, a laythai nayltil mi nahl-nyt zorn."