The most moving dictionary preface that I know of adorns the second volume of the Persidsko-Russkii Slovar’ [Persian-Russian Dictionary] by M.A. Gaffarov (Mirza Abdallah ebn-e Abd-ol-Ghaffar Tabrizi). The first volume (alef to zhe), replete with explanations of roots, proverbial usages, and quotations from Hafez and Sa’di, had appeared in 1914; the second was delayed by circumstances that will readily, I am sure, suggest themselves. I will let the editor of the second volume tell the story:

The second volume of M.A. Gaffarov’s Persian-Russian Dictionary makes its appearance thirteen years after the publication of the first and twenty years after the author began his work. The editor of the first volume, Academician F.E. Korsch, has since passed away, and almost the entire work of putting together the second volume has gone on without his irreplaceable participation. Between the appearance of the first volume and that of the second—everything has changed, even the generally accepted spelling of the Russian language. The initial pages of the second volume (up to the word saf) still preserve the form in which they were published following the appearance of the first volume, i.e., in the old Russian orthography. After the aforementioned word the spelling, paper, and typeface of the book all change—the pages were printed last year and this year, when it has been necessary to content oneself with whatever paper could be found, and to take such type as the printers now have available.

Naturally, during the preceding years, so rich in events and changes for both Persia and Europe, the languages have changed as well. Both the Persian and Russian languages now include many new words and terms, for the most part pertaining to the social and political spheres, that did not exist when the basic text of the dictionary was being prepared. This unavoidable obsolescence of the material had to be rectified by an extended edition. For the sake of keeping to the plan, it was decided to place all new words and meanings, as well as words added to remedy omissions, in a special section of Addenda. These addenda are quite extensive—the lexicon has undergone too many changes, introduced into the language by life. The not infrequent emendations of the basic text, as well as the not infrequent misprints, are due for the most part to the conditions in which the author was forced to work before and during the war. He worked in the evenings, in the course of long years, after a whole day’s labor. The setting of type of various sizes, with lead lining, as well as the lack of skill and experience of the young compositors observable in the beginning, also made matters more difficult and multiplied the deficiencies of the book.

The late F.E. Korsch in his preface to the first volume pointed out the significance of the Dictionary…. The present Dictionary represents the fruit of the living linguistic feeling and extensive erudition of an educated and intelligent Persian. Therein we may see the fundamental significance and fundamental value of this work. The Dictionary presents the entire lexical stock of its author. Thus everything in the Dictionary represents an indisputable fact, existing in a living linguistic consciousness, whereas in the heretofore large Persian dictionaries too much has represented the fruit of the compilers’ copying, with varying degrees of critical scrutiny—sometimes greater (Vullers), sometimes lesser (Steingass), and sometimes completely lacking in criticism (Jagiello). In the present Dictionary, perhaps in some respects less material is given, but all of it is unconditionally reliable in the above sense….

For many words in the Dictionary, examples are cited from colloquial, literary and poetic language. On occasion a poetic citation will be encountered even for a word whose meaning would be clear without it. The author thinks that some excess in this respect is no great sin, and hopes that readers and critics will excuse him.

L. Zhirkov.

The author of the preface was Lev Ivanovich Zhirkov, “one of the founders of national literacy for many unwritten languages of the Northern Caucasus and of the Turkic languages of the USSR” (Vsemirnyi biograficheskii entsiklopedicheskii slovar’). I am happy to report that he lived to a ripe old age and died in 1963.


  1. Sogdiana Books offers this dictionary for a mere £100.00, except they’re out of stock. The bookstore-plus has much noteworthy to those interested in, especially, Russia-Dar al-Islam relations. Most appears to be in Russian . . .

  2. I can’t tell you how pleased I am that this post finally has a comment after over a dozen years!

  3. Glad to lend a hand!

    And here’s a link to a downloadable copy of the dictionary.

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