Autumn 2003 (11.3)
of Oruj Musayev
Order at AI STORE - Language Learning
Two volumes are available - AZ/Eng and Eng/AZ.
Oruj Musayev with the new English-Azerbaijani Dictionary, which
just came out. It is the companion to the Azerbaijani-English
volume (1998). Both projects were sponsored by Exxon Azerbaijan.
Photo by Arzu Aghayeva.
2003, the new English-Azerbaijani Dictionary rolled off the press.
It's the dictionary we've all been waiting for and the companion
volume to an earlier work, the Azerbaijani-English volume (1998).
The new volume contains 1,700 pages with 130,000 terms; the earlier
volume had about 45,000 terms in its 645 pages.
Both volumes have been published in the new modified Latin alphabet,
which was adopted by the Azerbaijani Parliament late in 1991,
when Azerbaijan gained its independence from the Soviet Union.
Both are the culmination of a lifetime of commitment to language
studies and international relations by the compiler Professor
Oruj Musayev (1929- ).
It's an incredible achievement for anyone, much less a person
who has never lived, or for that matter, even visited an English-speaking
country. The only time Oruj has traveled beyond the boundaries
of the former Soviet Union was to Turkey when the dictionary
was being printed. But the significance of his work goes far
beyond the borders of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
The first volume has already joined the collections of serious
lexicons in libraries of some of the world's leading universities
including Oxford (UK), Harvard, University of California at Los
Angeles and Berkeley, Stanford, Indiana, Texas as well as the
British Library and others. The dictionary is being used in the
United States, Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Iran and
But the greatest significance of this work is that finally Azerbaijanis
in the Republic will no longer have to use the Russian language
as a trampoline for learning English. For the first time in history,
a significantly large enough dictionary is now available so that
the language learning process can be direct between the two languages.
That wasn't the case when Oruj was studying English himself.
"Back in the 1950s, there
were no Azerbaijani specialists who taught English-only Russians,
Armenians and Jews, and they didn't know Azeri. So at school,
all grammar explanations were made in Russian. All textbooks
were in Russian. All vocabulary was studied via Russian. For
many of us who were not native Russian speakers, it meant we
had to master Russian before even getting a chance to study English-an
excruciatingly long and difficult process," Oruj remembers.
There were other obstacles along the way, too. As a young student,
he even had a hard time getting a chance to study English. After
completing high school, Oruj learned of a new school that was
opening called the Institute of Foreign Languages (now the Azerbaijan
University of Languages where he chairs the Department of English
Grammar). It was September 1949 and he was late to enroll. "They
told me I could enroll in French, but I insisted on English.
World War II had just ended and English was becoming one of the
most prestigious languages in the world. So they finally agreed
to accept me conditionally, meaning that if I didn't do well
in my studies, they would kick me out. There were 250 students
accepted that year. I was the only one on probation," says
Oruj who ended up making a greater contribution to the study
of the English language in Azerbaijan than any student, past
The conditions for learning English during the Soviet period
were far from ideal. The Russians who dominated the system were
working hard to make their language the unifying factor of that
entire vast empire that spanned 12 time zones. So English was
shoved into the corner. "We didn't have audio-visual materials
like they do today, no TV programs, no tapes, no videos, no DVDs,
no CD-ROMs, no computers, no email-nothing!" And no dictionary!
Compiling the Dictionary
What's the hardest thing about writing a dictionary? "You
have to have an iron will and endless patience," says Oruj.
"Otherwise, it's impossible. There were times when I would
work for days on just one word. I would check about 15 dictionaries
before I was satisfied. I could have just written a definition
by looking at one or two dictionaries, but I didn't want to let
it go until I found the perfect trans-lation. Sometimes, in the
middle of the night, I would wake up, remembering a certain term
and get up and start working."
"There had never been a tradition of compiling dictionaries
before my work. Maybe other people will follow and compile even
larger dictionaries, but mine was first and, therefore, I had
the burden on my shoulders not to mislead, but to be as accurate
as possible for every single term."
"I've been working on this new volume for 10 years. It's
true that I was also teaching and working on other things (most
of the instructive textbooks for learning English grammar in
public school are by me). But this dictionary consumed me. I
worked on it everyday. Even when there were soccer matches on
TV, which I like very much. At half time, I would get up and
use that 15-minute break to work on the dictionary. I worked
even when I was ill. I've noted in my journal what time I used
to go to bed. Often, it's 3, 4, and 5 o'clock in the morning."
"I searched for what I wanted to do in life and finally
found it. It's been such honorable work. I'm so glad to have
finished the second volume.
One other enormous contribution of Oruj's work is his legacy
to foreigners who are eager to learn Azeri. Now there's one less
excuse. These volumes will be immensely useful and, undoubtedly,
will lead to many other language learning materials being written
now that the first major hurdle has been overcome.
Editor of Azerbaijan International, was involved in identifying
funding for Musayev's first dictionary back in 1995. The USSR
had collapsed only a few years earlier. Just when Azerbaijan
had finally gained its freedom and the official alphabet of the
Republic was written in a script quite similar to English, funds
were too scarce to facilitate the project.
She contacted Exxon Azerbaijan whose management immediately understood
the long-term value of such a project. Since then, they have
underwritten all three of Oruj Musayev's volumes: the Cyrillic
version of the Azerbaijani-English volume (1997) and the two
companion volumes in Latin Script-Azerbaijani-English (1998)
and English-Azerbaijani (2003).
Gulnar Aydamirova of Azerbaijan International staff also contributed
to this article.
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