Sorokin Yuri Sergeevich


    Yuri Sergeyevich Sorokin was born on January 25, 1913 in the village of Gorodnya, the Tver Governorate. His first job was that of a librarian at factory libraries in Leningrad. He determined his scientific interests (the history of the Russian literature and the history of Standard Russian) as early as an undergraduate and then postgraduate student of the Leningrad University.

    He completed his postgraduate studies and defended a Cand. of Sc. thesis on the language and style of Pushkin’s prose in 1941. During the war, S. gave courses on the Russian-Slavic and general linguistics at the Tomsk University, while he increasingly gravitated towards research into the history of Standard Russian. After the war, he continued his teaching career first at the Moscow State University and, since 1947, at the Leningrad State University. An excellent teacher and organizer, an insightful researcher, his lectures invariably enjoyed great success. They were clear, logical, original and demonstrated the lecturer’s profound understanding of the very essence of language processes.

    It was in research, his main vocation, that S. fully revealed his vast knowledge, outstanding talent and keen analytical skills. His topical article K voprosu ob osnovnykh ponyatiyakh stilistiki [On the basic concepts of stylistics] (1954) ignited the famous discussion and undeniably contributed to the rise of stylistics to new horizons of understanding and research. Daringly confronting such formidable scientific authorities like Academician L. Shcherba and Academician V. Vinogradov, S. insisted on differentiation between textual, analytical and functional stylistics, an idea that was later approved and adopted by the entire scientific community. A scientist with a broad range of interests, S. has authored numerous works in the Russian language theory, history, semantics, stylistics, lexicology and lexicography, including the fundamental volume Razvitiye slovarnogo sostava russkogo literaturnogo yazyka 30-90 godov XIX veka [Evolvement of the Standard Russian Vocabulary in the 1830-90s] (M.- L., 1965).

    Literature studies and textology also made a focus of his attention: S. took part in the preparation of texts and notes for the publications of works by V. Belinsky, N, Dobrolyubov, D, Pisarev and V. Maykov and authored the introductory articles for these editions; he published a paper on the linguistic principles underlying the preparation of the edition of V. Belinsky’s works, the papers Istoricheskiy zhanr v proze 30-kh godov XIX veka [The historical genre in the prose of the 1830s], K istoriko-literaturnoy kharakteristike antinigilisticheskogo romana 60-70-kh godov XIX veka [On the historical and literary specifics of anti-nihilist novels of the 1860-90s], etc.

    As of 1951, S. devoted all his time and effort to the Dictionary Subdivision of the Leningrad Department of the Institute of Linguistics (now the ILS RAS). He participated in the construction and editing of the 17-volume Dictionary of Modern Standard Russian, prepared a template for compiling the dictionary of N. Gogol’s Dead Souls, studied the strategies employed by the Russian Academy Dictionary (1789-1794) to present and describe the colloquial and folk speech of the time.

    As of 1961, S. devoted all his energy and creative power to the development of the Dictionary of the XVIII Century Russian. Taking the helm of the Historical Lexicology Team organized in 1960 by G. Blok on an initiative by V. Vinogradov, S. remained the dictionary’s lead researcher and chief editor until his last day.

    Together with his wife and colleague L. Kutina, S. worked to determine the array of the eligible vocabulary sources. He was the most dynamic participant in the creation of the unique card index of the XVIII Century Dictionary. He organized and published a set of monographs and collective volumes on the most essential issues pertaining to the evolvement of the XVIII century Russian vocabulary. S. was the author of many articles in these publications and of the main chapters in the Draft Dictionary. This laid down a solid theoretical and material groundwork for a novel historical dictionary integrating the principles of synchronic and diachronic vocabulary description. Yu. Sorokin and L. Kutina proposed a number of original lexicography strategies for lexis presentation to show the Russian vocabulary of the XVIII century in all the diversity and complexity of its evolution; due to this effort, the Dictionary of the XVIII Century Russian definitely exceeds all other dictionaries of this type by the wealth of the information it provides. To the last day of his life, S.  worked to refill the dictionary’s card files, participated in every fresh issue of the dictionary and scrupulously rechecked all texts before their publication.

    S. was a powerful “ideator”. At the very height of the Dictionary of the XVIII Century Russian project he arrived at the idea of its logical continuation, a dictionary of Standard   XIX Century Russian, and immediately started collecting the material when working on his monograph Razvitiye slovarnogo sostava russkogo literaturnogo yazyka 30-90-kh godov XIX veka [Evolvement of the Standard Russian Vocabulary in the 1830-90s].

    S. was both an outstanding researcher of the Russian language and a gifted organizer of scientific research. He headed the Dictionary Subdivision of the Leningrad Department of the Institute of Linguistics of the USSR Academy of Sciences in 1964 – 1969. It was during these years that a number of successful important projects ensured the subdivision’s leading positions in lexicography. One of these was the All-Union Lexicography Conference organized in 1965 to mark the completion of the 17-volume Dictionary of the Modern Standard Russian, recapitulate the results and discuss further lexicography study prospects.

    The Conference was attended by a number of outstanding Russian and international scientists including V. Vinogradov, F. Filin, A. Babkin, A. Yevgeyeva, V. Doroshevsky, B. Havránek, H. Bielfeldt, and others.

    One of S.’s constant responsibilities as the Dictionary Department’s head was developing its historical lexicology/lexicography line. This included building the unique card files of the Dictionary of the XVIII Century Russian, with a huge number of the samples prepared by himself; building the Draft Dictionary;  preparing a series of historical and lexicology studies into the XVIII century Russian along a variety of lines: the language of science, the problems of XVIII century borrowings, vocabulary expansion by new word formation; the preparation of monographs on stylistics, the Russian vernacular, historical lexicography, etc. Notably, S. was the chief editor of the overwhelming majority of all these collective/individual volumes.

    When worried by the slow progress of the Russian Synonyms Dictionary, S. called an extraordinary dictionary team meeting with V. Vingradov’s participation that decided on parallel compilation and editing of volumes I and II, thus ensuring their timely publication.

    S. was instrumental in the development of the New Words Dictionary. Together with N. Kotelova, S. edited the first dictionary of this type entitled Novyye slova i znacheniya (slovar spravochnik po materialam pressy i literatury 60-kh gg.) [New words and meanings (a reference dictionary based on the 1960s press and fiction]. M., 1971. This dictionary was the first in the series of new words dictionaries. It was compiled by a team from the Dictionary Department of the Russian Language Institute (Leningrad) of the USSR Academy of Sciences supervised by N. Kotelova and edited by her jointly with Yu. Sorokin.

    As of the mid-1980s, S. started the development of another type of a historical dictionary that, by using lexicography tools alone, could reflect both the various aspects of the XIX century standard Russian in their evolvement, and the then existent social, cultural and historical environment.

    L. Kutina and Yu. Sorokin proposed a basic vision of such a dictionary in their joint report at the 1986 conference to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Large Russian Dictionary Card File of the Leningrad Department of the Institute of Linguistics. The untimely decease of L. Kutina in 1987 interrupted the decades-long partnership of the two outstanding linguists, and S. continued detailed elaboration of the goals and philosophy of the XIX century Russian dictionary alone.

    It was under Yu. Sorokin’s supervision that the Institute's historical lexicology team proceeded to select the eligible sources, collect the material for and elaborate a draft version of the new (now completed) dictionary. A fatal disease interrupted Yu. Sorokin’s work literally mid-sentence: his desk still carried unfinished dictionary entries, unchecked scripts of the next XVIII century Russian dictionary issues, the beginning of the first, foundational chapter of the Draft Dictionary of the XIX Century Russian, samples for dictionary’s card files, sketches for future articles…

    L. A. Voynova, I. A. Popov

    Borrowed from the book: Ocherki po istoricheskoy leksikologii russkogo yazyka [Essays on Russian historical lexicology]. SPb., 1999