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Tongues of FireLanguage and Evangelization in Colonial Mexico$
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Nancy Farriss

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190884109

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190884109.001.0001

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Confusion of Tongues

Confusion of Tongues

(p.55) Chapter 3 Confusion of Tongues
Tongues of Fire

Nancy Farriss

Oxford University Press

Missionaries rejected the royal policy of imposing Spanish as the medium of evangelization, judging that it would be easier for them to learn the Indians’ languages. The linguistic diversity of Oaxaca, the most extreme anywhere on the planet, combined with the tonal complexity of the Otomangue languages spoken by the great majority of the local population, served as a serious barrier to achieving this goal. The existence of over twenty distinct languages, and a plethora of individual dialects within them, stimulated the further spread of Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, as a lingua franca between Spaniards and Indians throughout the colony. Its failure to reach across all social strata and ethnicities led the missionaries to conclude that they would have to proselytize directly in all the indigenous languages despite their multiplicity and complexity.

Keywords:   language diversity, Oaxaca, Otomangue languages, Nahuatl, lingua franca, language policy, missionaries, Mesoamerica

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