Sweet, Henry

A real-life Henry Higgens
A real-life Henry Higgens

(1845 - 1912) He was one of the primordial developers of the science of phonetics, and was — purportedly — the model for the character Henry Higgens, the curmudgeonly gynophobic, yet golden hearted, phonetician in the musical My Fair Lady.

In 1877, Sweet published A Handbook of Phonetics, followed by A Primer of Spoken English (1890), which included the first scientific description (using a phonetic alphabet) of educated London speech.

1. In the preface to his play Pygmalion, George Bernard Shaw stated that "Higgins is not a portrait of Sweet, to whom the adventure of Eliza Doolittle would have been impossible; still, as will be seen, there are touches of Sweet in the play."
2. Click here to read Sweet's Anglo-Saxon Primer.


1. Phonetic alphabets have a long history and Sweet was certainly not the first to create one. [Author: I had originally made this claim, but have since removed it.]

He was, however, the first to formulate the principle that a (broad) phonetic transcription should record only those sound differences that correspond to differences in meaning.
(mugdan at uni-muenster.de)

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