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This is something that was never clear to me when reading this (my absolute favorite) book.

Can rabbits understand what the humans are saying?

They can communicate alright with other animals (mice, seagull, cat, apparently not with a dog, though). What about humans?

Fiver has a dream where he actually talks to a human (the framer from Nuthanger farm) and is told that Hazel is hiding in a hole. In the dream Fiver even can read the sign, although it's clear rabbits can't read human writing, as even the stones representing El-ahrairah is too high of a concept for them.

Also, rabbits seem to use human names of places and people (Watership Down, Nuthanger farm, Lucy), though mostly in the "Stories from Watership Down", the 1996 sequel.

On the other hand, in the non-dream scenes where rabbits interact with humans (at the end of the Nuthanger raid when Hazel is shot and also when Lucy saves Hazel) and there is actual human dialogue, there is absolutely no indication that the rabbits understand what the humans are saying.

Thoughts?

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    I believe the animals all speak different languages. If I remember correctly they painstakingly taught Lapine to Kehaar, the bird, and they could communicate with mice through a lingua franca. – Torisuda Jun 9 '17 at 22:01
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    @mzywiol "They can communicate alright with other animals (mice, seagull, cat, apparently not with a dog, though)." Yes, the rabbits can communicate with a dog. In the chapter called "The Story of Rowsby Woof and the Fairy Wogdog", El-hrairah communicates with a dog several times while pretending to be a fairy dog. This chapter was a story within a story about the mythology of rabbits, so you might dismiss it as "fiction within fiction". The story doesn't show the ability to speak with dogs as remarkable, so presumably if El-ahrairah can speak with dogs then perhaps others can too. – RichS Jun 19 '17 at 6:47
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No, the rabbits of Watership Down or other warrens cannot speak with humans, understand human speech, or read human writings.

Chapter 1 - The Notice Board

Neither Hazel nor Fiver are able to read the sign posted near Sandleford Warren that says the field will be cleared for new (human) housing.

In this snippet from Chapter 1, Fiver sees a large white sign posted in the field near the warren. It was pounded into the ground by men with burning white sticks in their mouths.

Suddenly Fiver shivered and cowered down.

'Oh, Hazel! This is where it comes from! I know now – something very bad! Some terrible thing – coming closer and closer'.

He began to whimper with fear.

'What sort of thing-what do you mean?I thought you said there was no danger?'

'I don't know what it is,' answered Fiver wretchedly.

'There isn't any danger here at this moment. But it's coming – it's coming. Oh, Hazel, look! The field! It's covered with blood!'

Presumably, if Fiver could read the notice board, he would tell his older brother exactly what it meant.

THIS IDEALLY SITUATED ESTATE, COMPRISING SIX ACRES OF EXCELLENT BUILDING LAND, IS TO BE DEVELOPED WITH HIGH CLASS MODERN RESIDENCES BY SUTCH AND MARTIN, LIMITED, OF NEWBURY, BERKS.

Chapter 48 - Dea ex Machina

Hazel was not able to understand human speech after a girl named Lucy rescues him from the cat at Nuthanger Farm. The conversation between Lucy and a doctor is (to my best knowledge) the only moment in the entire book where we get to see one of the wild rabbits from a human perspective.

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    None of the scenes were conclusive for me as to understanding of human speech. 'Dea ex Machina' was not the only moment in the book where we see rabbit from human perspective - the ending of chapter 25, 'The Raid', has humans hunting the escaped rabbits. Rabbits hear them speak and the reader can read what they are saying, but again it's unclear if the rabbits understand them as well. In the very next chapter, 'Fiver Beyond', Fiver talks to a human in his dream. Granted, it's just a dream, but curiously the man there speaks in the same manner as in reality. How could a rabbit imagine that? – mzywiol Jun 26 '17 at 9:11

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