Friday, 31 March 2023 to Sunday, 2 April 2023

What’s in a Word?: Russian Prison Slang Dictionaries, an Overview

Fri31  Mar04:45pm(15 mins)
Main Building Room 132


Alex Maxwell1
1 University of Virginia, United States


From its identity-forming aspects, to its artistic, aesthetic, and expressive value, the Russian language has been a topic of utmost national importance, regardless of the iteration of the political entity that existed in and around the territories occupied by modern-day Russia, be it Kievan Rus’, the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, or the Russian Federation.

Specifically, prison and criminal slang have been part of Russian culture for many centuries, with the cultural prominence of such language being greatly amplified after decades of permeation and cross-pollination between standard Russian and the language of prison during and after the GULAG era in Russian history.

The principal idea behind this presentation is to trace the ways in which such language has been studied, formalized, and codified across centuries. More specifically, this work sheds light on the genesis and content of a number of Russian prison slang dictionaries, as well as their fate in the contemporary context, including availability, readability, reliability, and their value as a cultural document, in addition to being a record of significant linguistic phenomena. In addition to the overview of the dictionaries' publication history, this presentation offers lexicographic commentary, as well as a bigger-picture overview of the dictionaries' structure and the literary value of the accompanying text and commentary.