I discover from Anatoly that the Словарь русских народных говоров (Dictionary of Russian dialects) is online, thanks to the Institute for Linguistic Research of the Russian Academy of Sciences. This immense project has been under way since 1965 (it’s reached the letter С [S]); the Resources for Russian linguistics page created by the Slavic and East European Library of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign describes it as follows:
Entries supply grammatical information relevant to the part of speech of a word, a definition in standard Russian, stress, and citations for sources and dialects. Some entries excerpt passages to show usage. A list of geographical abbreviations is provided to help interpret in which dialectal area a particular term is found. An extensive bibliography of sources consulted for the compilation of the dictionary is included in the first volume with bibliographies of additional sources appearing at the beginning of various subsequent volumes. Sources include published materials and manuscripts.
(The Resources page shows an image from a page of the dictionary, as it does for all the works it describes—a very nice feature.) Anatoly says, “This is an unbelievably wonderful book—just download any installment and start reading at random. Just now I spent half an hour reading; I couldn’t tear myself away. What riches, what diversity, what beauty!” I agree; I downloaded “2. Ба-Блазниться” (pdf file) and was immediately hooked by the first entries:
Ба-ба-ба, междом. Слово, которым подзывают лошадь. Буин. Симб., 1897.
1. Баба, ы, ж. 1. Женщина, у которой первый ребенок девочка (в отличие от женщины, родившей первым сына и называемой молодухой). Оренб., 1849—1851. Казан. Казан.
2. «Мифическая облачная жена (ср. чешек, baby — облака), приносящая живую, целебную воду, т. е. дождь». Шла баба из-за моря, несла кузов здоровья (=живую воду), —· стар, погов., входящая и в состав народного причитания, произносимого в бане над ребенком, когда его моют». Слов. Акад. 1895. …
2. Баба, ы, ж. 1. Рыба Cottus gobio Linne; подкаменщик. Валд. Новг., Костром., Сабанеев, Берг. … 2. Птица Pelicanus crispus, Pelicanus onocrotalus; пеликан, кудрявый пеликан, розовый пеликан. Астрах., 1870. Толкуй баклан с бабой…
In the Simbirsk region in the 1890s, they said “Ba-ba-ba” to call horses; baba, alongside its standard sense of ‘married peasant woman’ and its colloquial sense of ‘woman (in general),’ was used in the Orenburg and Kazan regions in the mid-nineteenth century to mean ‘a woman whose first child is a girl’ (one whose first child was a boy was a molodukha), and it had a mythological sense ‘cloud-woman who brings live, healing water, i.e. rain’; in some regions baba was used for a kind of fish (Cottus gobio), in others for a kind of bird (Pelecanus crispus). And Anatoly gives the example of the unusual word щщи [shchshchi] ‘face’: it turns out there’s a dialect word сочь [soch'] ‘face,’ whose plural, счи [schi], is pronounced exactly like щщи. Mystery solved (though now one wants to know the origin of сочь).
Leafing through Dahl‘s dictionary has always given me (like everyone else who uses that masterpiece) a sense of the riches of the language, but Dahl is just a pond compared to this ocean. Language is so vast and various—how can people want to corral it and reduce it to a relatively few “approved” forms and usages? Don’t dig a cave and hide in it, embrace the universe!