Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Research Encyclopedias, Latin American History. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 29 March 2023

Indigenous Language Literacy in Colonial Central Americalocked

Indigenous Language Literacy in Colonial Central Americalocked

  • Owen H. JonesOwen H. JonesSinclair Community College, Humanities, Government, & Modern Languages


The multifaceted development of indigenous language literacy in colonial Central America and in all of Spanish America included the instruction and education of missionary friars and priests as well as indigenous elite youths who would become scribes, choir masters, and parish caretakers in their municipalities. Both indigenous men and European monks and priests would use native languages to create documents using revised Latin letters for the ends of protecting private and community assets or spreading Catholicism. Indigenous scribes would sometimes use Nahuatl as a “vehicular language” to keep notarial documents in lieu of their own native languages. In Central America in the Cuchamatanes Mountains, rather than write in Mam, for example, scribes sometimes wrote in Central American Corrected Nahuatl. The informal education of some Spanish and casta men who conducted business in Central America with indigenous peoples was another facet of indigenous language literacy. They would often serve as witnesses and interpreters in Spanish colonial tribunals translating native testimony and keeping interpreters faithful in their interpretations. They would sometimes read documents in indigenous languages, and would approve of translations into Spanish that indigenous scribes produced. Women would use a traditional weaving literacy to create wearable representations of themselves and their communities within a larger cosmovision. Indigenous language literacy in colonial Central America included indigenous men and women and male European migrants. This entry will contain quotations and terms that have been left in the colonial orthography to emphasize the colonial rather than modern script that scribes and scholars wielded to create documentation.


  • History of Central America
  • Indigenous History

You do not currently have access to this article


Please login to access the full content.


Access to the full content requires a subscription