Ural Federal University: University Linguists Collected about 4 Million Words and Names

Keryozhka, Alaki, Berendei, Gugalo, Kolundysh and other vocabulary were brought by linguists from the Department of Russian Language, General Linguistics and Speech Communication of UrFU from their expedition to the Murmansk region. The specialists visited the rural settlements of Varzuga and Umba, which are famous for the culture of the so-called Pomors, whose basis of life was sea fishing. The expedition took place in the anniversary year for the toponymic expedition: in 1961 the group under the direction of the founder and the first chief of the expedition Alexander Matveev made its first field trip.

Over 60 years the members of the Northern Russian toponymic expedition (now the toponymic expedition) have visited the Middle and Northern Urals, the Russian North (Arkhangelsk and Vologda regions), as well as Chelyabinsk, Orenburg, Kostroma and Yaroslavl regions, Bashkiria, Krasnoyarsk Krai.

“During the existence of the expedition, much has settled, but also much has changed. In the search for dialect words and local place names, a huge territory was surveyed: the Russian North – completely Arkhangelsk and Vologda regions, a significant part of Kostroma region, several districts of Yaroslavl and Kirov regions, most of the Urals, Trans-Urals, including Tyumen North, separate zones of Sayan, Priirtysh, Bashkiria”, says Elena Berezovich, the expedition leader, leading researcher of the Toponymic Laboratory of UrFU.

The specialists managed to create a unique method of directional collection and description of toponyms, to form a special dialog style of conversation with the informant for the cameral (and then digital) processing of materials. It helped them to collect about 4 million units: all sections of onomastics, dialectal vocabulary and phraseology, ethnography. Material in 13 languages of Russian nations: Russian, Mansi, Khanty, Nenets, Komi-Permyak, Komi-Yazvin, Tatar, Mari, Bashkir, Karelian, Vepsian, Saami, as well as in the so called “Zhgon Latin” – professional language of Kostroma pimokats. The Kamasin language was discovered for science. It is the largest not only in Russia, but also in Europe, treasury of material.

“The expedition was constantly expanding its sphere of interest and gradually ceased to be only toponymic, i.e. focused on collecting geographical names – designations of villages, rivers, fields, mountains, and other things. And, in addition to local geographical names, I began to collect other facts of onomastics – first of all, nickname anthroponymy, astronymy, chrononymy, as well as dialectal vocabulary and phraseology. For the last 20 years, we have been collecting ethnographic information: data on folk calendars, folk medicine, and rituals,” explains Elena Berezovich.

Materials collected by expedition became basis for dissertations, monographs, dictionaries of Ural and Russian North accents, ethnoideographic dictionary of Sverdlovsk region accents, dictionary of Finno-Ugro-Samoyedic loanwords in accents of Russian North, toponymic dictionaries of Ural and Tyumen North, dictionaries of folk astronyms, collective nicknames, chrononyms. On the basis of these data seven-volume Dictionary of Russian Dialects of the Middle Urals (1964-1987) and its supplementary volume (1996) were published. Currently, experts are working on a multi-volume “Dictionary of the Russian North’s accents” (by 2018, seven volumes have already been published, covering the vocabulary up to and including the letter M).

“Today the expedition records almost everything that relates to the nominative system of the dialect (several sections of onomastics, nominative vocabulary, ethnography), but by tradition is called toponymic and continues to pay special attention to toponymy, replenishing the card index with new names,” adds Elena Berezovich.

Employees of the UrFU toponymic research laboratory digitize the material collected during expeditions and thus not only replenish the department’s electronic base of toponymy, vocabulary, and ethnography, but also create an electronic database (lexrus.ru). For example, the information retrieval system “Russian Traditional Onomasticon: Anthroponymy, Zoonymia, Astronymia” contains dictionaries of materials on Russian folk onomastics of the widest geography. Information retrieval system “Toponymy of the Kostroma region”. – is a toponymic dictionary containing information on the toponymy of 20 of the 24 districts of the Kostroma region with an indication of the object type and geographical location of each toponym. The total volume of the dictionary is just over 27 thousand entries.

“Every year it becomes more and more difficult to organize the expedition and to hold it on a high scientific level. The conditions of the collection – and as a consequence, its methodology – have changed significantly. The present state of traditional Russian toponymy and dialect lexicon leaves much to be desired. Due to the destruction of the economic system, the rate of disappearance of place names has increased sharply. Villages are being erased from the face of the earth, and elderly speakers of the dialect are dying,” says Elena Berezovich.

However, the basic methodological principles of collecting material, as well as the fact that the expedition for its participants is not just a practice of field research, but also a full-fledged school of life and a gathering of like-minded people, remain unchanged. The next expedition is scheduled for November to the Makarievsky district of the Kostroma region. There the specialists plan to study the dialect, which was formed under the influence of fairs. This area is also famous for zhgon (pimokats) – people who rolled valenki. They had their own argot (“secret language”, the language of a particular closed social group), traces of which, as well as the influence of other accents, linguists will record.

Specialists of the department, in addition, have resumed expeditions to the Ural Mountains. They work with geologists, amateur mineralogists, and geological museum specialists in search of dialect and slang words, naming different kinds of crystals and minerals. They study not only the vocabulary, but also the ethnography and toponymy of stone.

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