A Russian lexicographer, ethnographer and writer, he is known by his greatest work the Explanatory Dictionary of the Live Great Russian Language, the first ever written or published in Russia. It is still one of the most popular and widely used resources of the Russian language.
His father was a Danish linguist, who worked as a librarian for the Russian Empress Catherine the great, and his mother was a translator daughter and could speak 5 languages. He was born on November 10th 1801 in Lugansk, Ukraine and in 1814 he was sent to a navy school in St. Petersburg that he abandoned in 1826 to enter the medical faculty, where he discovered his passion, science and foreign languages. While he was studying to become a surgeon, he was also memorizing almost one hundred Latin words per day.
He became a doctor in the Russian army, but his profession allowed him to travel and meet people from all regions of the country and at the same time to collect fairytales, proverbs, songs and words.
In 1832, he met the famous Russian writer Aleksandr Pushkin, who had big influence about Dahl’s work; he was the one who suggested him to make a dictionary due to his extended word collection variety. They thought that the Russian language should preserve its proverbs and sayings for generations.
When he was living in Orenburg, he compiled botanical and zoological textbooks; he also did several ethnographic and historic findings that made him a member of the Academy of Sciences in 1838. The Tsar Nicholas I arrested him because he thought his work was defamatory for the State but he was released days after. His ethnographic and linguistic collection material in that country region allowed him to record words, songs, fairytales, riddles, fables, old crafts and traditions, not only from Russians, but other civilizations in the area like Mordovians, Bashkirs, Tatars and Kalmys.
He wanted to publish with the Imperial academy of sciences, but he was rejected. He worked on his own day and night organizing every word and its meanings; unfortunately, he didn’t have enough money to print it all, so we gave it to the Society of lovers of the Russian.
People started to name it the Magellan because he put together nearly 2000 explained words, 37 proverbs and sayings of the Russian people. He died on 22 September 1872.