Henry Sweet

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SWEET, Henry [1845–1912]. English philologist, phonetician, and grammarian. Born in London, and educated at King's College School, London, he matriculated in 1864 at the U. of Heidelberg. In 1871, while still an undergraduate, he edited King ALFRED's translation of the Cura Pastoralis for the Early English Text Society, his commentary laying the foundation of OLD ENGLISH dialectology. Further works on Old English include: An ANGLO-SAXON Reader (1876); The Oldest English Texts (1885); A Student's Dictionary of Anglo-Saxon (1896). In 1877, he had published A Handbook of PHONETICS, which attracted attention among scholars and teachers of English on the Continent. He followed it with Elementarbuch des gesprochenen Englisch (1885), adapted as A Primer of Spoken English (1890). This was the first scientific description of educated London speech, the ACCENT later known as RECEIVED PRONUNCIATION. Sweet used phonetic script throughout this work, including specimens of connected speech in transcription. By emphasizing the spoken language and the use of phonetics he was a pioneer in LANGUAGE TEACHING. His views on the subject were set out in The Practical Study of Languages (1899). His last book on English PRONUNCIATION was The Sounds of English (1908). Bernard SHAW, who regarded Sweet as a man of genius, writes in the preface of Pygmalion about his ‘Satanic contempt for all academic dignitaries and persons in general who thought more of Greek than of phonetics’. The play's Professor Higgins, he says, is not a portrait of Sweet: ‘With Higgins's physique and temperament Sweet might have set the Thames on fire.’ There are, however, ‘touches of Sweet in the play’.

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Henry Sweet, 1845–1912, English philologist and phonetician. An authority on Anglo-Saxon and the history of the English language, Sweet was also a pioneer in modern scientific phonetics. His History of English Sounds (1874) was a landmark in that study. In 1901 he was made a reader in phonetics at Oxford. Among his other writings are A Handbook of Phonetics (1877), A New English Grammar (2 parts, 1892–95), The History of Language (1900), The Sounds of English (1908), and works on Anglo-Saxon, Middle English, and Icelandic. Sweet was the model for Professor Higgins in G. B. Shaw's play Pygmalion.