Nulla dies and all that

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March 22, 2004 by AK

Just for fun, a quote from a 2000 article in Transitions Online, by a lady who was apparently born and grew up in Russia:

“Tiring the world with boasts of how well-read and literate we are, we learn elementary vocabulary from Dal, a Russian Dane, who lived 150 years ago!” comments a Moscow journalist Oleg Pshenichnii, referring to an out-of-date dictionary written by Alexander Dal, which established the current language norms.

Funny how many errors one can pack into a short paragraph. First, the name of the man who did a great service to the Russian language by compiling its first — and in some ways, best dictionary, was Vladimir Dal, or Dahl. Second, Dahl’s dictionary is in no way outdated: its enormous collection of idioms remains literally a thesaurus beyond compare. Third, Dahl did not establish norms or anything; he just travelled about the country and collected words and proverbs. A proto-Slavophile of sorts, Dahl was all for the Russian vernacular and against literary Russian’s becoming a calque of French or German (One and a Half Words on the Russian Language), but I don’t think the language took the direction he recommended. And, of course, Russians do not learn elementary vocabulary from Dahl, nor do Americans, from Webster.

As far as I know, it was from Dahl’s notes that Afanassiev extracted most of his Forbidden Tales.


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