Henry Sweet on Finnish: a recently discovered manuscript

The BAULT and VARIENG research communities are hosting

A guest lecture by Dr. Michael Ashby (UCL):

Henry Sweet on Finnish: a recently discovered manuscript

Monday 5th of May 2014, at 2 pm

Metsätalo seminar room 14 (3rd floor)

Everybody is warmly welcome to attend.


This paper reports the discovery and preliminary investigation of a hitherto unknown manuscript by Henry Sweet (1845–1912).

In 1898, Sweet was invited to deliver a series of lectures on phonetics at Cheltenham Ladies’ College.  This newly discovered manuscript indicates that whilst there, he also undertook a series of transcriptions of verse and prose extracts in Finnish. Two publications on Finnish language and literature have been identified as the sources of Sweet’s material.

The notation Sweet used was a modified version of his ‘Current Shorthand’ of 1892, but the manuscript also contains occasional detailed annotations in Melville Bell’s ‘Visible Speech’ (1867), which raises the question of the source of Sweet’s information about Finnish pronunciation.  Nothing is said in the manuscript about an informant, but a native speaker living in Cheltenham and associated with the College has now been identified as the most likely informant; her relationship to Sweet will be discussed.

The manuscript came to light in 2010 in a collection of uncatalogued archive material in the library of University College London, where it had apparently lain unnoticed for about a century.  However, annotations indicate that Daniel Jones was aware of it, and regarded it as an important piece of work. A plausible route by which the manuscript may have come into the possession of UCL has been identified.

This paper will outline the background to the manuscript, and especially what it can tell us about Sweet’s sense of Finnish phonology.