Vladimir Dahl

Vladimir Dal

Vladimir Ivanovich Dal (also: Dahl, Владимир Иванович Даль) (November 10, 1801September 22 1872) was one of the greatest Russian lexicographers.

Early life

His father was a Danish physician named Johan Christian Dahl, and his mother was of a German and Russian descent. The future lexicographer was born in the town of Lugansky Zavod (now Luhansk, Ukraine) and served in the Russian Navy from 1814 to 1826. Dahl was interested in the language and folklore from early years. Having graduated from the medical department of the Dorpat University, he started travelling by foot through the Russian countryside and collected sayings and fairy tales of the Russian people. He published his first collection of fairy-tales in 1832. Some others, yet unpublished, were put in verse by his friend Alexander Pushkin, and have become some of the most familiar texts in the language. After Pushkin's fatal duel, Dahl was summoned to his deathbed and looked after the great poet during the last hours of his life. In 1838, he was elected to the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Lexicographic studies

In the following decade, Dahl adopted the penname "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. His magnum opus, Explanatory Dictionary of the Live Great Russian language, was published in 4 huge volumes in 1863-66. The Sayings and Bywords of Russian people, featuring more than 30000 entries, followed several years later. Both books have been reprinted innumerable number of times.

Dahl was a strong proponent of the native rather than adopted vocabulary. In the words of his great admirer, Vladimir Nabokov, Dahl's dictionary is a masterpiece of art rather than a mere work of science. The encompassing nature of this 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 Russian language, the most comprehensive Slavic etymological lexicon.

For his great dictionary Dahl was honoured by the Lomonosov Medal and the honorary fellowship in the Russian Academy of Sciences. He is interred at the Vagankovskoye Cemetery in Moscow. To mark the 200th anniversary of Vladimir Dal's birthday, UNESCO declared the year 2000 The International Year of Vladimir Dahl.


Vladimir Dal worked in Ministry of Home Affairs, the chief administrative center of minister (1841). His responsibilities included overseeing investigations of murders of children in the western part of Russia.

In 1844 an internal usage document was produced in only 10 copies- "Investigation of the Murder of Christian Babies by Jews and the Use of Their Blood" (Russian: Розыскание о убиении евреями христианских младенцев и употреблении крови их. Напечатано по приказанию г. Министра Внутренних Дел. 1844 г.), which asserted Blood Libel. It was written in all likelihood by one Skripitsyn, a functionary at the Ministry, but after the flare-up of antisemitism in Russia after 1880 it was republished with the ascription to Dahl himself, which has never been proven. The document achieved notoriety when it was used as "evidence" in the Beilis affair.



  • 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)

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