Azerbaijan International

Autumn 2003 (11.3)
Page 63

English-Azerbaijani Dictionary
Legacy of Oruj Musayev
By Betty Blair

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Two volumes are available - AZ/Eng and Eng/AZ.

Related Article:
Azeri-English Dictionary volume (1998)

Left: Professor 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.

In September 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 other countries.

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 or present.

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 translation. 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.

Betty Blair, 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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