The historical roots of Soviet lexicography go back to Old Russia. The first glossaries were produced in the thirteenth century. As in England, they were basically devoted to so-called ‘difficult and unknown’ words. In Orthodox Russia, however, most of these words were borrowed not from Latin, but from Old Church Slavonic and from Greek. Modern pre-Revolutionary lexicography began in the XVIII century. Its major accomplishment was the six-volume Словарь Академии Российской, completed in 1794. In this first academic dictionary, many of the words were ‘nested’ — a term that requires explanation. Russian, like other Slavic languages, is rich in expressive and derivational suffixes. In addition, in Russian there exist numerous compounds written as one word. ‘Nesting’ refers to the placing of words with the identical initial root in the same entry. This procedure saves space. However, it may disrupt the overall semantism and alphabetical order making it difficult for the reader to find a word when a prefix precedes the root.
The first academic dictionary did not include colloquialisms: it did list many Church Slavonic forms. In 1822, the revised version (i.e., the second edition) of the Словарь Академии Российской was completed; this revision eliminated ‘nesting’ and introduced an alphabetical re-listing of the entries. The conflict between ‘nesting’ and alphabetizing forms was to reappear over a century later, during the Soviet era. In 1847, the last volume of the third edition of the academic dictionary appeared. This four-volume work still contained a large number of Church Slavonic forms, not used in the spoken or belletristic Russian of the mid XIX century. In fact, its title was a Словарь церковно—славянского и русского языка. A major step forward was the introduction of stylistic labels for Church Slavonic forms such as глава, град etc.
A number of studies and dictionaries of Russian dialects and jargons were published during the XIX century and the early XX century (Perelmuter 1974). The most important dictionary devoted to dialectal and informal Russian was Dahl’s four-volume Толковый словарь живого великорусского языка. The last volume appeared in 1866. The third and fourth editions of Vladimir Dahl were edited by Baudouin de Courtenay, who added many slang and vulgar terms.
The first volume of the fourth academic dictionary, Словарь русского языка Академика Грота was published in 1895. Its original goal was to include only items used in belletristic literature during the second half of the XIX century. The first volume, covering the letters А to Д, conformed to this principle. However, when the editorship passed from Jacob Grot to Alexey Shakhmatov, the situation drastically changed. In the second volume many regional and technical terms were entered. This edition was never completed; its last fascicule was issued in 1937. It must be emphasized that no completed pre-Revolutionary dictionary described Contemporary Russian Literary Language (current Russian) as methodically. This standard had come into being, under the influence of Karamzin and Pushkin, around 1830.
The beginning period of early Soviet lexicography was incapacitated by the chaotic conditions following WWI, the Revolutions, and the Civil War. The state of political and civil disarray paralyzed the work on dictionaries for several years. Even after the country began to recover from the physical destruction that it had suffered, lexicography lagged. It was pointed out above, for example, that the fourth academic dictionary, Словарь русского языка Академика Грота—Шахматова was never finished. Two major reasons for the lag should be pointed out. The turbulence of the period 1914-1920 shook the foundations of Contemporary Russian Literary Language itself. Many of the most highly educated people were killed, exiled to Siberia or forced to flee the country. The new bureaucrats were often semi-literate dialect speakers. A veritable flood of regionalisms, neologisms, acronyms, abbreviations, vulgarisms, borrowings, and jargonisms swamped the language. One striking example of the lexical chaos of the 1920’s was the wholesale transplanting of the English counting system for tennis into Russian, P. G. Chesnokov’s Словарь спортивных терминов, lists as the norm фифтин, серти, форти, дьюс. ляв etc. Later, of course, these borrowings were replaced by native forms.
A second factor that impeded the normal development of lexicography was the dominance of the so-called Academician Marr ‘s School of linguistics. Marr, a Georgian compatriot of Stalin, had managed to establish firmly his Japhetic theory of language origin in the Soviet Union. The Japhetic theory rejected, among other things, the Indo-European, Semitic, Finno-Ugric etc. language families. Academician Marr claimed that all the world’s languages were derived from a Japhetic protо-language, spoken at one time in the Caucasus. Marr advanced the fantastic claim that all words of all languages go back to the four elements sal, ber, jon, rosh. Marrism crippled the study of philology and linguistics in the Soviet Union for many years.
In spite of the difficulties just described, Soviet lexicography began to make progress in the mid 1930’s. An outstanding accomplishment was the compilation and publication of Ushakov’s Толковый словарь русского языка. Ushakov was assisted by the leading Soviet linguists of the time: B.A. Larin, S.I. Ozhegov, B.V. Tomashevsky, G.O. Vinokur, and V.V. Vinogradov. Ushakov’s dictionary was, in fact, the first dictionary of Contemporary Russian Literary Language (Standard Russian). The introduction to Ushakov’s dictionary gives an excellent description of the Moscow pronunciation, a description, still used in courses on Russian phonetics today. Ushakov consistently gives the stress not only for the base forms, but also for the declined and conjugated forms. This is extremely important since in Russian the stress may shift from one syllable to another within the declension or conjugation. Ushakov does provide a partial respelling whenever the pronunciation does not conform to the rules, as in borrowings if a т or д is not softened before the vowel e. Ushakov’s method of dealing with pronunciation has been retained in contemporary Soviet dictionaries of Russian. In his entries, Ushakov gives a great deal of grammatical information. For example, he consistently supplies difficult genitive plural forms. The Ushakov dictionary was the first to indicate all aspectual pairs of Russian verbs. This was a significant step forward in the lexicographical description not only of Russian, but of Slavic languages in general. Once again, Ushakov established precedents that are followed by Soviet and even post-Soviet dictionaries today.
After World War II Soviet lexicography became very productive. The direct continuation of D.N. Ushakov’s tradition was After WWII Soviet lexicography became very productive. The direct continuation of Ushakov’s tradition was Ozhegov’s a single volumed dictionary of Contemporary Russian Literary Language, Словарь русского языка. Several revisions and reprints of this dictionary have appeared; the XVIII printing was issued in 1986. A revised, expanded edition was scheduled for 1988 (as indicated by the publishing house Русский Язык in a letter to Shvedova, dated December 13, 1984. Around seven million copies of this dictionary have been sold in the Soviet Union and abroad. It is of great value to the teacher and student of Russian since it contains detailed normative information on Russian stress and grammar. Ozhegov’s dictionary is basically of a normative type. It consistently selects a preferred variant or two variants when several exist. Ozhegov’s normative role reflects the strong pressure within the USSR for language standardization.
In 1950, one year after the publication of Ozhegov’s first edition, Joseph Stalin issued a pronunciamento officially putting an end to the privileged position that the Marr Linguistic School had occupied. The excesses of the Marrists had obviously so embarrassed Soviet scholarship that the highest government circles felt compelled to act. The dethronement of Marr facilitated progress in all phases of Soviet linguistics, including lexicography were halted.
The first volume of the new multi-volume Словарь современного русского литературного языка or Большой Академический Словарь also appeared in 1948 (1950), published by the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. The compilation progressed on schedule from 1948 to 1965. The XVII and last volume was issued in 1965. This dictionary describes the Russian literary language beginning with the era of Pushkin to the present day. Many thousands of citations from Russian literature are provided. It is a monumental lexicographical achievement.
A shorter four-volume Academic dictionary was issued between the years of 1957 and 1961. This shorter dictionary was approximately the same size as the pre-WWII Ushakov’s dictionary. A second, revised edition of the abridged Academic dictionary was published in the years 1981-1984. This revised edition was a distinct improvement.
The publication of a large number of bilingual specialized and technical dictionaries began in the 1950s. The production of such technical dictionaries has been one of the strongest features of Soviet lexicography. Space limitations preclude even an abridged listing here of such dictionaries. A 1986 catalog of Kamkin’s Bookstore in Rockville, Maryland, for example, lists an impressive number of English-Russian specialized dictionaries in fields such as agriculture, veterinary, aviation, chemistry, ecology, economics, electrochemistry, medicine, metallurgy, mining, physics, railway transportation, television, textiles etc.
In regard to etymological dictionaries, Soviet lexicography has made a late start. Before the Revolution, Preobrazhensky’s Этимологический словарь русского языка, begun in 1910 and was completed as far as су-, and was the only work available; the last part of this dictionary was not completed until 1949. From 1950 to 1958 an important etymological dictionary of Russian, the Russisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch, was published in West Berlin by Max Vasmer. It was so urgently needed that the Soviet publishing house Прогресс translated it from German into Russian, deleting certain forms. The introduction to the Soviet edition contains a sentence, looking harmless to those uninitiated into Soviet morales, which indicates the «removal of certain entries» that can be of interest only to «specialized scientific circles». This sentence meant, in fact, that several colloquial-vulgar Russian terms were omitted. In 1963, Moscow State University began publishing Shansky’s new multi-volume Этимологический словарь русского языка. Thus, we see that in the field of Russian etymology, Soviet lexicography has a long way to go before it can match the work already done for English, German, French, and other languages.
It was mentioned earlier that pre-Revolutionary Russia saw the appearance of several dialect and jargon dictionaries. The production of such lexicons has lagged in the Soviet Union. The publication of an Academy оf Sciences multi-volume Словарь русских народных говоров was begun in 1965 under the editorship of F. P. Filin. By 1985, twenty volumes had been published (up to не—). As of today 43 volumes are completed to Телепа. In the early period of the Soviet state, approximately up to 1932, various descriptions of professional jargons and substandard speech did appear. However, since 1932, practically no studies of jargons or of slang have been published. When Dahl’s dialectal dictionary was reprinted in the Soviet Union in 1935 and in 1956, only the second edition was reproduced rather than the third or fourth, to which Baudouin de Courtenay had added vulgarisms.
Soviet lexicographers have devoted considerable attention to the language of individual authors. An important result of this work is a four-volume concordance — the Dictionary of Pushkin’s Language, 1956-1961; it was complied at the USSR Academy of Sciences. Work has also been done on the language of other authors such as N. Gogol, M. Gorky, M. Lomonosov etc.
Soviet lexicography has achieved impressive results in publishing bilingual dictionaries of Russian and other Slavic languages, Bulgarian, Czech, Polish, Ukrainian, Belorussian, etc. Soviet lexicography has also accomplished a great deal in the compilation and publication of bilingual dictionaries for Russian and the non-Slavic languages spoken in the USSR. Numerous bilingual dictionaries of Russian and of languages spoken outside the Soviet Union have been compiled with varying degrees of success. Most of these dictionaries are excellent; others are satisfactory. Let us examine in some detail the largest and best Soviet English — Russian dictionary by Yu. D. Apresyan et al., New English — Russian Dictionary. This dictionary is impressive with its approximately 250,000 main entries and huge number of illustrative phrases, idioms, proverbs, and set expressions. At first glance, Apresyan’s dictionary seems to be a superb accomplishment. The dictionary gives the British phonetic transcription of English based on Daniel Jones. Most of the translation equivalents and definitions are correct.
A Soviet bilingual English lexicography was introduced by a native speaker of English, Elizabeth Wilson, whose Modern Russian Dictionary for English Speakers (1982) was co-published by Pergamon Press and the Moscow publishing house Русский Язык. Wilson concentrated on spoken English, especially the British variety. Although spotty in its coverage, this semi-Soviet dictionary is exceptional in that it contains correct, idiomatic English.
Soviet lexicography has also produced numerous excellent dictionaries of linguistic terminology, word stress, homonyms, synonyms, word frequency, neologisms, difficult words etc.
In the 1970’s, Soviet publishers in Moscow obtained licenses to reprint two Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionaries: The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English (Русский Язык, 1982) and The Oxford Student’s Dictionary of Current English (Просвещение, 1983). The publishers obtained permission to make changes and did so; key political terms were given new definitions. Thus, capitalism was defined as «an economic and social system based on private ownership of the means of production operated for private profit and on the exploitation of man by man». In a letter dated January 28, 1986, the Chief Executive of the Oxford University Press, G.B. Richardson, wrote that granting permission to the Soviet publishers to alter definitions had been a mistake and should not have taken place.
Considerable attention was paid in the Soviet Union to the use of school dictionaries in the teaching of Russian, especially to non-native speakers. As far back as the 1930’s, L.V. Shcherba wrote in detail about the structure of bilingual dictionaries used to teach foreign languages. He advocated that separate dictionaries be compiled for those learners who wish to decode (translate from the foreign language) and those who wish to encode (translate into the foreign language). Shcherba’s theories still exert influence both in the Soviet Union and abroad. The Pushkin Institute in Moscow, which promotes the teaching of Russian to foreigners, now has a Faculty of Pedagogical Lexicography. Many school dictionaries have been published for the foreign student of Russian. Typical are Folomkina and Weiser with about 3500 main entries and Lapidus and Shevcova with about 11,000 main entries. Both of these dictionaries have been reprinted.
Two new kinds of learner’s dictionaries have appeared in the Soviet Union. The first is a dictionary of collocations. Such a dictionary gives the linguistic contexts in which each headword often occurs. The first such dictionary to appear was T.I. Anisimova et al., Пособие по лексической сочетаемости слов русского языка. Словарь—справочник. A larger work is P.N. Denisov and V.V. Morkovkin, Учебный словарь сочетаемости слов русского языка. The number of main entries is disappointingly small — about 2500. Each entry shows in great detail the various combinations in which the headword is normally used. The noun entries, for example, contain those verbs that collocate with the noun: пользоваться авторитетом (‘to exercise/wield authority’); вести борьбу (‘to carry on/wage a struggle’); прослушать курс (‘to take a course’); прочитать лекции (‘to give a lecture’); подать пример (‘to set an example)’; оказывать соппротивление (‘to offer/put up resistance’); хранить тайну (‘to keep a secret’); etc. The dictionary provides various other types of lexical and grammatical collocations, such as adjective + noun, verb + preposition, noun + infinitive, preposition + noun, etc. If this dictionary could be expanded to include a sufficient number of headwords, its value would be greatly enhanced. A future lexicographical monument, Активный словать русского языка by Academician Apresyan et al. is in its initial stages to be finished.
The second kind of recently published learner’s dictionary compiled by L.I. Anisimova is called Пособие по лексической сочетаемости слов русского языка: Словарь—справочник, literally linguo-areal. The function of such a dictionary is to provide encyclopedic information about the terminology used in a given activity. A series of such dictionaries is apparently scheduled for publication. The editors of this series are E.M. Vereshiagin and V.G. Kostomarov. The first dictionary to appear in this series was Denisova’s Лингвострановедческий словарь: Образование в СССР. This dictionary treats the terminology of education in great detail. The editors of this series assume that many features of the Soviet educational system do not exist elsewhere and that a linguo-areal dictionary, consequently, serves as a guide to Soviet culture.
The conclusion to the Soviet lexicography has achieved impressive results in publishing dictionaries of modem standard Russian, specialized and technical dictionaries, learners’ dictionaries for foreigners, and some bilingual general use dictionaries. So far, Soviet lexicography has been a shining example in the production of normative, etymological dictionaries, historical dictionaries, dialect dictionaries, and surname dictionaries.
The most typical aspects of Soviet lexicography are the following:
- its refusal to treat Russian slang and other non-standard forms;
- its readiness to censor, expurgate existing dictionaries;
- its isolation from Western lexicography, the result is a failure to keep up with innovations now common in many dictionaries produced in the West, such as pictorial illustrations, main-entry status for compounds, the inclusion of real people and places, the utilization of synonym and usage essays;
- its refusal to allow free international collaboration in the compilation of bilingual dictionaries, he Wilson dictionary is a welcome exception. In spite of the difficulties just described, Soviet lexicography began to make progress in the mid 1930s. The result was a great collaborative unique lexicographical work, Словарь современого русского литературного языка.
- These negative features are mainly attributable to the obvious fact that lexicography in the Soviet Union was controlled by the government and ruling party. The hope is that the future will bring more contact between the Soviet (now Russian) and Western lexicographers.
 Morton Benson, «Soviet Lexicography: A Survey». In: Snell-Hornby, ed. 1988: 217-228. (ed. 1989).
 Lenin himself is reported to have Inspired the compilation of this normative dictionary in a letter written in 1920 to the Minister of Education, Lunacharsky.
 It should be noted the the old conflict between arranging words in nests or in alphabetical order reappeared during the compilation of this dictionary.