First Advisor

Richard H. Beyler

Date of Publication

Winter 3-22-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in History






F. Max Müller (Friedrich Max) 1823-1900, Ural-Altaic languages, Pan-Turanianism, Central Asia -- History -- 19th century



Physical Description

1 online resource (v, 172 pages)


Some linguists in the nineteenth century argued for the existence of a "Turanian" family of languages in Eastern Europe and Northern Asia, claiming the common descent of a vast range of languages like Hungarian, Finnish, Turkish, Mongol, Manchu, and their relatives and dialects. Of such linguists, Friedrich Max Müller (1823-1900) was an important developer and popularizer of a version of the Turanian theory across Europe, given his influence as a German-born Oxford professor in Victorian England from the 1850s onwards. Although this theory lost ground in academic linguistics from the mid twentieth century, a pan-nationalist movement pushing for the political unity of all Turanians emerged in Hungary and the Ottoman Empire from the Fin-de-siècle era. This thesis focuses on the history of this linguistic theory in the nineteenth century, examining Müller's methodology and assumptions behind his Turanian concept. It argues that, in the comparative-historical trend in linguistics in an age of European imperialism, Müller followed evolutionary narratives of languages based on word morphologies in which his contemporaries rationalized the superiority of "inflectional" Indo-European languages over "agglutinating" Turanian languages. Building on the "Altaic" theory of the earlier Finnish linguist and explorer Matthias Castrén, Müller factored in the more primitive nomadic lifestyle of many peoples speaking agglutinating languages to genealogically group them into the Turanian family. Müller's universalist Christian values gave him a touch of sympathy for all human languages and religions, but he reinforced the hierarchical view of cultures in his other comparative sciences of mythology and religion as well. This picture was challenged in the cultural pessimism of the Fin de siècle with the Pan-Turanists turning East to their nomadic heritage for inspiration.


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