Interlexicography In Teaching Russian As A Second Language


The paper is concerned with the use of dictionaries of international words by foreign students studying the Russian language. It considers the phenomenon of defining international vocabulary in a dictionary in the context of a scientific field. The authors outline the growth of cross-cultural and cross-language contacts in the history of human civilization. They provide the definition of interlexicography as the method to carry out interlexicological study of international words in various linguistic systems. The paper analyses the issues related to the choice of an illustrative part in the interlexicographic source with regard to qualifying a lexeme as international. There is a background of interlexicographic development based on bi- and multilingual dictionaries of some national languages. The authors analyze the target and goal focus of existing dictionaries of international words, the principles of making up a glossary, its organization and representation in dictionary entries. Through descriptive and comparative methods, along with methodological parameters of linguodidactic representation of the material in line with the educational lexicography, the paper identifies some linguistic and methodological advantages and disadvantages of the existing internationalism dictionaries and their linguodidactic value for teaching Russian as a second language to international students. The authors propose some options for their use to teach foreigners the Russian language. Based on the analysis of international dictionaries, the authors suggest that it is necessary to create a special academic Russian-language “dictionary of a new generation” which would streamline all previous lexicography-driven experience of internationalisms by arranging the contents of earlier dictionaries

Keywords: International vocabularyinternational lexical entriesinterlexicologyinterlexicographylanguage education,


The research conducted by the American linguist Pei (1969) indicates that in the early 17th century it was unlikely to meet a person who spoke a foreign language. By the early 20th century, this likelihood rose to 2%, and by the 60s – to 20%. However, by the early 21st century, with the advent and consequent spread of global communication tools, the likelihood to communicate with a foreigner was thought to be about 50%, thereby conferring the same status as intra-language communication. What is more, based on the intensity of cross-cultural contacts in the modern era, it may even continue to grow, becoming common verbal practice. Obviously, along with this process, the role of language education to ensure international relations is also steadily increasing, since overcoming a language barrier is crucial for personal fulfilment in the global communication environment.

As early as 19th century, however, linguistics offered its original solution to address the cross-language challenge. It was then that, resulting from linguistic contacts, numerous international elements in the framework of various linguistic systems attracted greater attention, although they had been accumulated in languages since ancient times. Along with the discovery of “internationalisms” in the vocabulary, the linguists came up with the idea to create an artificial auxiliary language that would facilitate communication in a foreign language in cases where none of the communicants speak the interlocutor’s native language (literally “they do not find a common language”). A new linguistic direction, otherwise known as “interlinguistics” came up, which, unlike traditional linguistics mainly dealing with the intra-linguistic issues, addressed the issues of cross-language interaction. Against this background, even comparative language science and contrastive linguistics fail to answer a number of pressing questions related to mastering a foreign language code and using it in communication, since these sciences explore languages as isolated systems that detect (in their structure and functioning) certain typological similarities and differences at the subsystem level.

As per international units solely in the vocabulary, it is reasonable to talk about interlexicology (Volmert, 1990), i.e. cross-language lexicology that, as contrary to comparative and contrastive, studies interlexical formal and semantic links that hypothetically and empirically arise in terms of a language contact. Basically, interlexicology shapes the relationship of lexemes within the inter-lingual lexical system that for a long time has not been subject to a holistic review within the system linguistics due to the predominant isolation and monolingual communication in human civilization. However, thanks to the latest technologies, artificial and natural bi-and multilingualism is rapidly disseminating across the world, herein becoming a kind of VIP-pass to the global system of intercultural information exchange. Thus, reconstruction and modeling of a private cross-language (bilingual) and more complex (multilingual) system and lexical constructions to study foreign languages more effectively today seems to be an extremely important area of interlinguistics. This is a focus for a particular fundamental branch of the lexicological science – interlexicography.

In a broad sense of the word, interlexicography examines the equivalence of language entries (including false ones) in contiguous languages. In a strict sense, it deals with the applied definition of international units at different levels of contiguous language systems. In both cases, interlexicographic practice is supposed to involve a variety of vocabulary definitions from various language systems for a comparative analysis of the lexicographic information they present and its subsequent synthesis in the dictionary of cross-language parallels and equivalents.

The paper discusses some examples of interlexicographic definition of purely international vocabulary units.

Problem Statement

Due to the fact that international vocabulary has long been characterized by cross-language similarity both in meaning and form, global communication calls for dictionaries of international words to become auxiliary aids in mastering foreign vocabulary as a cross-cultural communication code. Despite some disputes among scientists in many basic questions of interlexicology, such dictionaries exist. However, there are still no special educational dictionaries for teaching Russian as a second language (with some of the printed international dictionaries that were created for educational and reference reasons), contemporary “interlinguodidactics” needs methodological diagnosis of published dictionaries of this type for their didactic value to master a foreign language. This will enable to answer the question as to what extent these dictionaries can be used to teach foreign languages ​​and, above all, Russian; will enable to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the available sources on interlexicography in terms of methods they propose for teaching Russian as a second language. Given the ongoing discussion in linguistics as to which lexemes can be considered international, it is getting obvious to carry out not only linguistic and methodical but even interlinguistic analysis of glossaries and the principles of their representation in existing interlexicographic sources – with a view to modern science. Thus, the aforementioned procedures will determine a place to be occupied by a particular dictionary of international words in teaching the Russian language and a value of each dictionary for mastering it.

Research Questions

The history of interlexicography has its fair share of definitions of internationalisms in dictionaries. In Russia, the earliest lexicographic experience of describing the international components of the vocabulary of a language undertaken by Izyumov (1880) dates back to 1880. In his “Experience of the Dictionary of the Russian Language in Comparison with the Languages ​​of the Indo-European: in 4 Departments” (Izyumov, 1880), the main items are roots and affixes. Against a general comparative analysis into the words of the studied languages, some emphasis was also placed on the words with similar spelling, “the same” phonetics and meaning.

Among the interlinguistic sources on the creation of international auxiliary a posteriori languages, i.e. language-oriented similarities, the first to be published was the dictionary of the Italian mathematician Peano (1909) “Vocabulario commune ad linguas de Europa”. He followed the isoglosses of 1,700 international words in English, German, Russian, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese laced with Latin and Greek.

In 1968 under the auspices of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Yushmanov published his reference dictionary “Elements of International Terminology”. It contains brief information about the origin and meanings (in the form of full-word translation equivalents) of international term elements. The first part of the dictionary includes over 1,000 Greek and Latin morphemes that compose a vast majority of international terms. The list does not include: 1) too rare elements forming only one or two international terms; 2) elements that exactly coincide with Russian ones (for example, in the words vide-t’, lun-a, side-t’); 3) elements used as independent terms (for example, kokki, sfera, tip). The second part of the dictionary is an alphabetical list of Russian terms, words and morphemes that are equivalents of international term elements. The appendix contains tables of letter correspondences for the Greek, Latin and Russian alphabets.

In 2003, “Latin Heritage in Russian Language: Reference Dictionary” edited by Ilinskaya (2003) came out. The dictionary aims to reach out students to learn Latin. The reference book comprises the most common words in the vocabulary of Latin origin, including those that have made their way to Latin from Greek and other ancient languages. The dictionary includes some tables of the most productive word-formation types of Latin origin, detailing the semantics of affixes. In the Russian-Latin part of the reference book, the words are given in a way that indicates the means and borrowing time, and the location of cognate words inside a word family corresponds with the chronology of their entry into the Russian language.

In 2014, a MSU team of authors published another dictionary with the same name “Latin Heritage in Russian Language: Reference Dictionary” (Voronkov, Ponyaeva, & Popova, 2014) devoted to the problem of lexical borrowings in Russian and word-building processes based on the foreign vocabulary. The dictionary aims to be an additional tool for those mastering the Latin vocabulary, as well as studying modern European languages. The first part provides historical background of the words that came into Russian from Latin in the time span of 10th – 20th centuries. The second part contains Latin words and roots (788) that exist in Russian and form Russian derivatives. The third part contains an alphabetical list of Russian derivatives (more than 3,500); the date of the first recording of words is indicated.

In 2006, an English-Russian translation dictionary “3000 English Words of Everyday Communication in Just a Couple of Days” by Akimov (2006) was published. It is entirely made up of the words that form part of the vocabulary of both languages. The dictionary is built on a thematic principle – it consists of word lists covering almost all possible everyday topics, and smaller subgroups that reveal certain dimensions of each topic. Inside the thematic groups and subgroups the words are listed in an alphabetical order. Inside a word family, different parts of speech and different meanings of polysemantic English words are specified. For each of them, the corresponding cognate Russian equivalent is provided along with other Russian synonymous equivalents, if any. Homonyms are listed in separate families and are marked with Roman figures. The dictionary also provides transcription for English words, their brief grammatical and stylistic characteristics.

In 2008, a dictionary by Akimov (2008) “Russian Vocabulary in English” came out as a supplement to the textbook by A. Dragunkin “English “Tenses” and Constructions”. It provides the differentiation of international glossaries depending on the extent to which spelling and phonetic image of the inter-lexeme coincide in both languages. The first part of the book contains about 1,000 easily identifiable words (1st section) and over 2,000 words that have minor phonetic differences (2nd section). The second part of the book contains over 1,500 words with the same spelling in both languages but with more significant phonetic differences. Many of the words have a high index of communicative value for both Russian and English everyday communication. In addition, the dictionary includes a number of common cultural and encyclopedic words, as well as some special terms relating to human life and work environment, flora, fauna, history, architecture, politics, and medicine. The introduction provides some guidelines for the development of the vocabulary presented by the dictionary.

In the same 2008, a manual by Gorelik (2008) “Modern German: 3000 International Words of the German Language: 2500 Idioms and Phraseological Units” was designed for beginners to learn German. The first part of the manual that contains international vocabulary is a translation dictionary (Russian-German and German-Russian).

A significant contribution to the development of the theory, terminology and practice of interlexicography was made by Doctor of Philology, Professor of the Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute and Chairman of the Kharkiv Lexicographic Society (KLS) V.V. Dubichynskiy. The scientist developed a coherent and consistent terminological system of cross-language lexicology, where the concept of “lexical parallels”, dialectically combining the traditional linguistic concepts of “internationalism”, “false friends of interpreter”, “cross-language homonyms”, “cross-language paronyms”, etc. into a single terminological system, is assumed as the most common unit. In fact, the author was tasked to examine thoroughly each inter-lexeme for its internationality. The lexicographic study of lexical parallels proposed in his dictionaries shows their formal and substantive proximity and national cultural identity, prevents translation difficulties and focuses on possible interference errors. The concept of such lexicographic sources was developed by Dubichynskiy (1995) in his doctoral thesis. To date, only two of them have been published, namely: “Educational Dictionary of Russian-Spanish Lexical Parallels” (Dubichynskiy, Chaikhieva, & Conacova, 2006) and “Russian-German Dictionary of Lexical Parallels” (Dubichynskiy & Royter, 2011). The idea of a multilingual (Russian-English-French-Spanish) dictionary of lexical parallels that was proposed in the same thesis in 1995, unfortunately, still remains unfulfilled. At present, several dictionaries of lexical parallels are being prepared for printing in the Kharkiv Lexicographic Society. They are Russian-French and French-Russian, Russian-English and Russian-English-German, Russian-Polish and Russian-Ukrainian-Polish. As a kind of a library kit for a translator, KLS plans to create a whole range of similar bilingual and multilingual lexicographic sources.

In German lexicography, efforts are underway to create a large dictionary of international vocabulary for 10 European languages (English, Dutch, Danish, Spanish, Italian, German, Polish, Portuguese, Russian and French) in 8 main sections (nature, culture, technology, philosophy, etc.). The project was announced by a group of scientists from the University of Essen (Germany) as early as 2003 in the joint monograph “Internationalismen II: Studien zur interlingualen Lexikologie und Lexikographie” (Braun, Shaeder, & Volmert, 1990; Braun, Shaeder, & Volmert, 2003), but has not appeared yet.

Expanding the scope of influence of the English language by the late 21st century was reflected in Goerlach’s (2001) dictionary “A Dictionary of European Anglicisms: A Dictionary of Anglicisms in Sixteen European Languages”, where the vocabulary of English origin is studied in very extensive linguistic material, widely known and qualified as “inter-anglicisms”.

In Russian inter-lexicography the most representative is the “Dictionary of International Vocabulary: 6 Foreign Languages” by Lamzin (2007). It includes about 4,000 Russian words and their analogues in French, Spanish, Italian, German, Swedish and English, indicating an etymological prototype of the inter-lexeme in the additional column of the aggregated table. Among all the lexical entries in the dictionary there are some words common to at least two Romance or Germanic languages for example, German and Swedish), otherwise known as cognates. In addition, the dictionary also addresses the polysemy of Russian words and synonymy within individual languages. In some cases, the agreement of lexical entries is indicated in brackets. Russian is a source rather than target language here, i.e. the dictionary is more geared towards the study of the major European languages. Unfortunately, this dictionary has a limited edition and is not available to a non-specialist reader.

It should be noted that despite a markedly increased interest amid linguists and lexicographers of the 20th and 21st centuries to international items in the vocabulary of languages, there is no dictionary of Russian international words among a relative diversity of international dictionaries available today. Meanwhile, the Russian language has been strengthening its positions in the international arena, thereby making the need for such dictionary more and more acute in domestic linguopedagogics. Since there is no special target dictionary, so far, that would enable to trace the changes in international elements coming into and functioning within the Russian language, the authors present a more detailed consideration of the list of lexicographic works outlined in the paper.

Purpose of the Study

The paper aims to analyze the existing dictionaries of international words with regard to their linguodidactic value for mastering Russian as a second language, to summarize the experience of interlexicography and to draw a conclusion as to the possibility of its use in teaching Russian as a second language.

Research Methods

The following methods were used to carry out the study, namely: a description method, a comparative analysis of interlexicographic examples, and a generalization method for the data obtained.


A descriptive and comparative analysis applied to the dictionaries of international words made it possible to draw conclusions regarding their linguodidactic value as to the possibility of their use in teaching Russian as a second language (RSL). Admittedly, all the above dictionaries lack the linguodidactic and linguocultural information about a word in the framework of a dictionary entry. Due to some considerably traditional approach to define the vocabulary, they in many ways do not fall within the parameters for word representation empowering to use dictionary resources for vocabulary and grammar in teaching Russian as a second language. Such parameters include frequency information (nuclear and peripheral lexemes), word valences (i.e., its collocation capabilities), word-formation capacity, communicative, topical and cultural values. Here is a minimal set of vocabulary characteristics of a lexeme that RSL linguodidactics is occupied with.

In some cases, the principles of selection and representation of international words to constitute a dictionary are open to debate. Thus, the manual on German international vocabulary by Gorelik (2008) does not take into account such an important aspect as polysemy of a word. The author provides just one meaning of a translated internationalism, therefore the required full information is missing in the area for equivalents. The presence of a large number of toponyms in the dictionary, considered by the author as international, is also quite controversial.

The earliest dictionaries of international units now have largely outdated linguistic information, and therefore cannot be used to teach modern Russian.

The dictionaries of the Latin heritage in the Russian language merely describe the Latin layer of international vocabulary. The dictionary by Ilinskaya (2003) is an explanatory etymological dictionary, which is not enough to be immersed into a language. The advantages of the dictionary include the tables of productive word-formations and spelling matches. MSU optional edition of 2014, describes the phenomena of lexical sets (in the 1st part) and inter-lexicological comparison, which is very valuable, since there are some equivalents of Latin lexemes in other languages. The reference to Latin word-formations in Russian is also valuable. It goes without saying that the absolute majority of lexemes in both dictionaries are represented by terminological units.

They also include the dictionary of international (Greek-Latin) term elements by Yushmanov (1968). It can only be used to define the meaning of inter morphemes and inter monemes at an advanced level of studying a professional language.

A “linguistic and methodological imperfection” of the dictionary of anglicisms by Goerlach (2001) also lies in the attempt to limit its vocabulary purely within “inter anglicism”, although its absolute value implies the extensive language material (16 languages) to ascertain the indisputable internationality of the described units. Nevertheless, it is the consolidated technique to define international lexemes of different etymologies that is crucial for teaching Russian as a second language.

Today the dictionary by Lamzin (2007) is the most complete (in terms of etymology), though not always consistent, presentation of international vocabulary in Russian lexicography. A great benefit is its multilingualism, the consideration of polysemy and synonymy in languages and certain syntagmatic information. The disadvantages include the fact that the dictionary has a limited edition, does not always reveal a peculiar behavior of the meanings compared and is focused on the study of six foreign languages. These methodological shortcomings naturally make it ineffective for teaching Russian as a second language.

It should be noted that some dictionaries are greatly beneficial with a view to teaching Russian as second language. In this vein, Akimov’s “3000 English Words of Everyday Communication in Just a Couple of Days” best suits for teaching thanks to the thematic arrangement of international vocabulary. The dictionary is distinguished by dual targeting, which makes it equally valuable for both learning English by Russians and Russian – by the English. This is facilitated by well-developed Russian translations of some English words and stresses put in Russian words. The second dictionary by the author, “Russian” Vocabulary in the English Language”, turns out to be even more valuable for teaching Russian as a second language, thanks to the focus to differentiate the identity index of international lexemes from the compared languages.

Undoubtedly, the dictionaries of lexical parallels by Dubichynskiy (2008) will prove to be a significant linguistic and methodological aid for a Russian language teacher, since they make it possible to reveal national and cultural components in the meanings of the compared inter lexemes. In addition, the dictionaries of Dubichynskiy (2008) explore a system of semantic matches for polysemantic inter lexemes and deal with complex (four-component) cross-language homonymous and paronymic unities, which makes them valuable in translation practices. The function of such dictionaries is differentiating. They make it possible to streamline ideas about the lexemes of two or more languages that intersect in any way and allow revealing full-international and non-full-international lexemes due to a close study of the semantics of the compared units. Such dictionaries will undoubtedly be useful in the classroom to get rid of the interference impact of the student’s native language.

However, there are some “linguistic and methodological imperfections”. Combining false and true lexical parallels in one dictionary, which, however, have special marks, alongside a detailed study of the relations between their meanings and semantic structures reveals the idea behind such dictionaries to target primarily translators, since other “methodological characteristics” of words essential for studying a language are not provided. Furthermore, they combine under the same cover both common international lexemes and special international and false international terms, which is not advantageous as they should be specially grouped for teaching a language.

The most common (with rare exceptions) and fundamental “methodological imperfection” of the lexicographic sources listed above is the alphabetical organization of the vocabulary. It is due to the fact that they are mainly dictionaries that provide translation or reference links (receptive). As a matter of fact, alphabetical organization of the vocabulary is valuable only for a lookup function purely with a view to mastering a foreign language but does not reflect the real functioning of the vocabulary in the language, hides a variety of paradigmatic and syntagmatic relationships in the vocabulary.

Another question to arise is what languages and to what extent should be the basis for the representation of international words in a dictionary (in other words, what vocabulary should be classified as international). As one can see, interlexicographers have different approaches to address the issue. The dialectic of this issue balances both bilingual dictionaries of internationalisms and multilingual interlexicographic research. One cannot but agree with the statement of Akulenko (1980) that internationality is a relative concept; it can manifest itself based on dialexemes of two any languages, including cognates of closely related languages. However, the most objective is the multilingual definition of international words in a dictionary based on at least seven “control” or socially, economically, territorially, scientifically and culturally “globally significant” languages (English, German, French, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Italian).


The traditional dictionaries of international vocabulary analyzed in this paper fail to adequately serve the linguodidactic goals of teaching Russian as a second language. Other vocabulary-related projects are needed in line with the modern lexicographic paradigm to ensure successful mastering of the international vocabulary of the studied language and provide the correction of the interference effect of existing interlingual differences in the formation of artificial bilingualism. Due to the specific nature and methodological value of international vocabulary the following aspects need to be addressed to create its lexicography: cross-language and multilingual aspects, close attention to the semantic side of interlexemes, their national and cultural differences, data on frequency and matching of words, their word-formation capabilities and system-in semantic relationships and, finally, ideographic and thematic classification of lexical entries in a special section of the dictionary.

Nevertheless, the abovementioned interlexicographic sources can serve as a foundation for compiling an educational dictionary based on other linguistic and methodical concepts, while invariably following the principle of continuity of lexicographic sources.

The described phenomenon of defining international vocabulary in a dictionary seems very relevant today, because modern integration encourages international vocabulary to facilitate the creation of favorable conditions for acquiring a positive experience of intercultural communication, for smoothing over differences that arise during intensive migration processes, and for successful personal growth based on positive verbal communication in the global world.


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28 December 2019

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Baryshnikova*, E., & Kazhuro, D. (2019). Interlexicography In Teaching Russian As A Second Language. In D. Karim-Sultanovich Bataev, S. Aidievich Gapurov, A. Dogievich Osmaev, V. Khumaidovich Akaev, L. Musaevna Idigova, M. Rukmanovich Ovhadov, A. Ruslanovich Salgiriev, & M. Muslamovna Betilmerzaeva (Eds.), Social and Cultural Transformations in the Context of Modern Globalism, vol 76. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 234-242). Future Academy.