The global use of English is one of the most tangible consequences of British colonialism, and as such it should invite much more critical self-reflection in the Anglophone academic world than it currently does. The Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics sees it as one of its foremost tasks to promote the perception of linguistic diversity as an enrichment of culture, rather than a hindrance to communication. Correspondingly, while one of our foci continues to be the study of the many fascinating languages of Europe other than English, our staff and students are just as deeply engaged in research on a great variety of other languages of the world, especially but not only those of Asia. Moreover, we strongly believe that the attention we pay to language history as much as language structure is essential to engendering a decentralised world view that shuns away from parochialism and a new kind of academic colonialism: the assumption that one can do justice to other peoples and cultures without studying – and thus valuing – their languages. Hence we are particularly keen to engage with, and learn from, students and researchers from around the world who can diversify further our inevitably limited understanding of the richness of human language in all its forms.
The first chair in a linguistics discipline at Oxford University was created in 1868 for Friedrich Max Müller, after he had not been appointed to the Chair of Sanskrit because – unlike his successful competitor – he did not believe in the idea of studying this ancient language of India merely as a tool for spreading Christianity on the subcontinent. Instead, Müller edited the monumental series The Sacred Books of the East, which demonstrated to his contemporaries how much more they had to learn from their colonial subjects than vice versa. We acknowledge that the history of linguistics has not been immune to the temptations of colonialism, but today we know that true progress in linguistic research can only be made if it is informed by such a spirit of openness and humility.