Dal's portrait by Vasily Perov
|Born||November 10, 1801
Lugansk Factory, Yekaterinoslav Vice-Royalty, Russian Empire
|Died||September 22, 1872
Moscow, Russian Empire
|Known for||Explanatory Dictionary of the Living Great Russian Language|
Vladimir Ivanovich Dal (alternatively transliterated as Dahl; Russian: Влади́мир Ива́нович Даль; November 10, 1801 – September 22, 1872) was one of the greatest Russian language lexicographers. He was a founding member of the Russian Geographical Society. He knew at least six languages including Turkic and is considered to be one of the early Turkologists. During his lifetime he compiled and documented the oral history of the region that was later published in Russian and became part of modern folklore.
His father was a Danish physician named Johan Christian von Dahl (1764 – October 21, 1821). He was a linguist versed in German, English, French, Russian, Yiddish, Latin, Greek and Hebrew languages. His mother, Maria Freitag, was of German and French descent (Huguenots). She spoke at least five languages and came from a family of scholars.
Novorossiya was part of Russian colonization, where Russian was imposed as a common language in cities, but Ukrainian remained prevalent in smaller towns, villages, and rural areas outside the immediate control of colonization. On the outskirts, the ethnic composition varied and included such nationalities as Ukrainians, Greeks, Bulgarians, Armenians, Tatars, and many others. Dal grew up under the influence of this various ethnic mixture of people and cultures.
Dal served in the Russian Navy from 1814 to 1826, graduating from the St Petersburg Naval Cadet School in 1819. In 1826, he began studying medicine at Dorpat University and took part as a military doctor in the Russo-Turkish War (1828–1829) and the campaign against Poland in 1831–1832. Following disagreement with his superiors, he resigned from the Military Hospital in St. Petersburg and took an administrative position with the Ministry of the Interior in Orenburg Governorate, serving in similar positions in St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod before his retirement in 1859.
Dal was interested in language and folklore from his early years. He started traveling by foot through the countryside, collecting sayings and fairy tales in various Slavic languages from the region. He published his first collection of fairy-tales in 1832 in Russian language. Some others, yet unpublished, were put in verse by his friend Alexander Pushkin and have become some of the most familiar texts in the Russian language. After Pushkin's fatal duel, Dal was summoned to his deathbed and looked after the great poet during the last hours of his life. In 1838, Dal was elected to the St Petersburg Academy of Sciences.
In the following decade, Dal adopted the pen name Kazak Lugansky ("Cossack from Luhansk") and published several realistic essays in the manner of Nikolai Gogol. He continued his lexicographic studies and extensive travels throughout the 1850s and 1860s. Having no time to edit his collection of fairy tales, he asked Alexander Afanasyev to prepare them for publication, which followed in the late 1850s. Joachim T. Baer wrote:
While Dal was a skilled observer, he lacked talent in developing a story and creating psychological depth for his characters. He was interested in the wealth of the Russian language, and he began collecting words while still a student in the Naval Cadet School. Later he collected and recorded fairy tales, folk songs, birch bark woodcuts, and accounts of superstitions, beliefs, and prejudices of the Russian people. His industry in the sphere of collecting was prodigious.
His magnum opus, Explanatory Dictionary of the Live Great Russian language, was published in four huge volumes in 1863–1866. The Sayings and Bywords of the Russian people, featuring more than 30,000 entries, followed several years later. Both books have been reprinted innumerable number of times. Baer says: "While an excellent collector, Dal had some difficulty ordering his material, and his so-called alphabet-nest system was not completely satisfactory until Baudouin de Courtenay revised it thoroughly in the third (1903–1910) and fourth (1912–1914) editions of the Dictionary."
Dal was a strong proponent of the native rather than adopted vocabulary. His dictionary began to have a strong influence on literature at the beginning of the 20th century; in his 1911 article "Poety russkogo sklada" (Poets of the Russian Mold), Maximilian Voloshin wrote:
Just about the first of the contemporary poets who began to read Dal was Vyacheslav Ivanov. In any case, contemporary poets of the younger generation, under his influence, subscribed to the new edition of Dal. The discovery of the verbal riches of the Russian language was for the reading public like studying a completely new foreign language. Both old and popular Russian words seemed gems for which there was absolutely no place in the usual ideological practice of the intelligentsia, in that habitual verbal comfort in simplified speech, composed of international elements.
While studying at Cambridge, Vladimir Nabokov bought a copy of Dal's dictionary and read at least ten pages every evening, "jotting down such words and expressions as might especially please me"; Alexander Solzhenitsyn took a volume of Dal with him as his only book when he was sent to the prison camp at Ekibastuz. The encompassing nature of Dal's dictionary gives it critical linguistic importance even today, especially because a large proportion of the dialectal vocabulary he collected has since passed out of use. The dictionary served as a base for Vasmer's Etymological dictionary of the Russian language, the most comprehensive Slavic etymological lexicon.
- In 1986 a museum in Moscow, Russia, was opened in honor of Dal.
- In Luhansk, Ukraine, the home of Dal has been converted into a Literary Museum where the employees managed to collect the lifetime editions of Dal's complete literary works.
- In 2001, a Luhansk (Ukraine) university was named after Dal, the East Ukraine Volodymyr Dahl National University (from his name in Ukrainian).
Blood libel affair
Dal served in the Ministry of Domestic Affairs. His responsibilities included overseeing investigations of murders of children in the western part of Russia.
In 1840, the Damascus Affair had revived the medieval blood libel canard in Europe (the anti-Semitic accusation that Jews use the blood of Christian children for ritual purposes), and Czar Nicholas I instructed his officials, especially Vladimir Dal, to thoroughly investigate the legend. In 1844, just 10 copies of a 100-page report, intended only for the czar and senior officials, were submitted. The paper was entitled "Investigation on the Murder of Christian Children by the Jews and the Use of Their Blood." It was claimed there that although the vast majority of Jews had not even heard of ritual murder, it and the use of blood for magical purposes were committed by sects of fanatical Hasidic Jews. While the paper is often attributed to Dal, the question of the authorship (or multiple authorships) remains controversial.
In 1914, 42 years after Dal's death, during the blood libel trial of Menahem Mendel Beilis in Kiev, the then 70-year-old report was published in St. Petersburg under the title Notes on Ritual Murders. The name of the author was not stated on this new edition, intended for the general public.
- Terras, Handbook of Russian Literature, p. 92.
- Maximilian Voloshin, "Поэты русского склада," in Sovremenniki (Russian text).
- Brian Boyd, Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years (Princeton University Press, 1993), p. 171.
- "Constantine Medal of the IRGS". Russian Geographical Society. Retrieved 25 August 2015.
- official website East Ukraine Volodymyr Dahl National University – History section
- Poliakov, Léon. The History of Anti-Semitism: Suicidal Europe, 1870–1933. University of Pennsylvania Press. 2003. p.84.
- Poliakov, Léon. The History of Anti-Semitism: Suicidal Europe, 1870–1933. University of Pennsylvania Press. 2003. p.357.
- Dal, Vladimir, Explanatory Dictionary of the Live Great Russian language, Vol.I, Diamant, Sankt Peterburg, 1998 (reprinting of 1882 edition by M.O.Volf Publisher Booksellers-Typesetters)
- Terras, Victor, Handbook of Russian Literature (Yale University Press, 1990), ISBN 0-300-04868-8
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