The interactions of Henry Sweet’s linguistic thought and E. B. Tylor’s anthropology
This article traces the interactions between the philologist and applied linguist Henry Sweet (1845–1912) and the anthropologist and evolutionist E. B. Tylor (1832–1917). Tylor was impressed by Sweet’s uniformitarian views on phonetic synthesis and word-division: that phonetic and grammatical processes observable in the present could be used to explain grammatical formation and inflection in the past. Conversely, Sweet’s views on language and its origins owe much to Tylor’s intellectualism and his doctrine of survivals. According to Tylor, ‘primitive man’ employed rational thought in his attempts to make intellectual sense of the world and its phenomena. In expressions such as ‘the sun rises’, vestiges of this primitive thought and animism then survive in the lexis and syntax of later, modern languages. Sweet used Tylorian material in his language textbooks, and the intellectualist theory was taken up by literary critics in the 1880s, e.g., in the Shelley Society — of which Sweet was a founding member, in order to explore the roots of poetic metaphor and figurative language as used in modern English poetry.