Vladimir Dal’s life’s work is known throughout Russia, though his name may not always be. The writer and lexicographer (scholar of words) traveled the country to catalog the stories and phrases that defined Russian culture.
When Dal began his journey to capture Russia’s rich culture and language, he had already accomplished much in his life: first in the Russian Navy, then as a doctor and a war hero, and finally as a writer and publisher of natural sciences textbooks.
While traveling in the countryside studying plants and animals, Dal discovered his passion for writing and documenting the many facets of Russia. He spoke to many people, gathered their verbal history and turns of phrases, and soon published his first book of fairy tales. He continued to visit people in their homes and recorded everything they could tell him about Russian tradition. Folklore, music, and crafts formed the base of this knowledge, but the thread tying it all together was the richness of the Russian language and its dialects.
Dal eventually compiled his work into the ambitious Explanatory Dictionary of the Living Great Russian Language, containing 200,000 Russian words and 30,000 Russian sayings. The work was reprinted in new editions several times over the next century, a testament to its status as a foundational and accessible book for all of Russia.
Today’s slideshow Doodle celebrates Dal’s tireless efforts roaming the countryside and interviewing hundreds to discover the thread of language that binds Russia together. In the first slide, we travel with Dal as he leaves the city on his journey to explore Russia’s traditions firsthand. We visit a family with Dal in the second slide — can you spot the fairytale fox in the house? Slide 3 brings us with Dal to a marketplace along with singers and puppets, a sample of what he saw during his time on the road. The dictionary Dal put together, illustrated in Slide 4, housed the many details Dal learned about in his travels.
Happy 216th birthday, Vladimir Dal!