Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 February 2009
In terms of number of speakers, Tibeto-Burman vies with Indo-European for the title of the world's largest language family. Yet by comparison little is known of its past. In linguistic terms, eastern Eurasia has always been much more of a terra incognita than western Eurasia. Speakers of Tibeto-Burman languages occupy a vast area in the heartland of eastern Eurasia, but Tibeto- Burman peoples are by no means the only inhabitants of the Orient. Yet at one time it was believed that virtually all languages spoken by what was impressionistically called ‘the Mongoloid race’ or ‘Mongolian races’ belonged to a vast language family known as Turanian. In the middle of the last century, Friedrich Max Müller, a celebrated champion of this theory, divided the languages of the Old World into three language families.