A Russian-English dictionary of colloquial expressions

A Russian-English dictionary of colloquial expressions. By Stanislav Silinsky. (LINCOM scientific Dictionaries 3.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2009. Pp. 300. ISBN 9783929075809. $124.88 (Hb).

Reviewed by Nikolai Penner, McMaster University

Every human language contains many words, collocations, phrases, and idiomatic expressions that are frequently used by native speakers in specific everyday situations. Although such expressions are a key element of vivid, colorful spoken language, language instructors slight them and traditional dictionaries frequently omit them. As a result, even the most talented language learners sometimes produce speech that is dry and unnatural to native speakers. Furthermore, such colloquial expressions may be crucial for successful communication by reflecting specific cultural realities or peculiarities of native speakers’ mentalities that are completely unknown to language learners.

A Russian-English dictionary of colloquial expressions by Stanislav Silinsky addresses this issue to help students of Russian and English as well as translators and interpreters, to speak in the target language accurately and idiomatically, based on the colloquial speech of a native speaker of contemporary Russian or American English (AE). The dictionary also points out common mistakes, awkward usages, and communication failures caused by cultural differences.

This dictionary contains more than six thousand entries that focus on concepts, notions, and phenomena unique to contemporary Russian life and culture. It is the first of its kind and differs from other dictionaries in several respects. First, most entries are frequently-used collocations and multi-word expressions, and in some cases even complete sentences, not often found in other existing dictionaries. Second, while listing colloquial expressions, the author deliberately avoids constructions that can be considered rude but nevertheless succeeds in including an abundance of high-frequency expressions typical to everyday Russian. Furthermore, because of its usage-oriented approach, the dictionary provides communicative as opposed to linguistic equivalents of words and expressions. In many cases, when a specific Russian expression or cultural object does not have a direct English equivalent, explanatory or descriptive variants or clues for the translator are provided.

Undoubtedly, examples of actual usage of most of the English expressions in the dictionary are one of its most useful features. They have been carefully selected from a variety of authentic sources, including modern literature, Internet sites, movie scripts, and interviews. The examples illustrate accurate and correct usage of the expression and provide the user with a model to follow. This feature can hardly be underestimated, especially when one considers that almost all words have been translated communicatively or descriptively (e.g. a single noun can be translated with a verb phrase or a multi-word construction).

To summarize, with its clear organization and the right amount of detail, this dictionary is easy to use. It should prove indispensable for translators and a valuable source of everyday phrases and collocations for learners of Russian and English. It will help them make their speech idiomatic, colorful, and truly colloquial.