Cedula Real (royal decree) of 1770 Instruccion de Indias (Prohibition of indigenous languages)

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Author: Charles III, King of Spain (1716-1788)

Year: 1770


Place: Madrid


Cedula in six leaves, printed on both sides with seal of the King in the last page. Quarto (11" x 8 1/4") housed in hand crafted enclosure by Octavye.  First edition.

Content of the Cedula. The King attempts to make the Spanish the unique and universal language in his domains: “The Indians be instructed in the dogmas of our religion in Spanish, and they are taught to read and write in this language, which must be extended and made unique, and universal in the same domains, as it is that of the Monarchs and Conquerors, to facilitate the administration, spiritual passage to the Naturals, and that these can be understood by the superiors ...”

The Cedula emphasizes the reluctance of the indigenous people to use Spanish and their inclination to maintain their own language, so they do not send their children to schools and go to the extreme of resisting speaking Spanish even though they know it. This attitude shows, according to the king, "something of malice" born in the desire of the natives to hide their actions from the Spanish. The King mentions the numerous Indian languages as a barrier of submission to the Crown and, he mentions different languages: “hay Chocho, Mixteco, Tlapaneco, Olmeco, dos generos de Totonaco y en Oaxaca, Tasaco y Zapoteco… y aún en Tlacho, de la diosecis de Puebla, se ve de dos barrios que tienen, uno es Othomi, y otro Tepehua…”

The King continues with a discriminatory passage against the indigenous languages, implying that they have been multiplying over the years: 

“When Hernan Cortes made the Conquest, from Yucatan to Mexico, only the Mexican (Nahuatl) or Culhua language was spoken, which was the same, and Doña Marina and Geronimo de Aguilar understood it perfectly, however the Spaniards went through everything that is the diocese of Yucatan, the province of Tabasco, the diocese of Tlaxcala, which is from Puebla de los Angeles, and the archbishopric of Mexico, and in all that earth at present there are other different languages, composed of Othomi and Mexican, and with various terms and pronunciation and ways of learning them, for which "Arts" (books on languages) have been composed, when it cannot be denied that the Conqueror only knew the Mexican and Othomi Languages ." Various measures are imposed to make Spanish the sole language, including creation of schools, prohibitions and forcing the friars to collaborate – who the King saw as accomplices of the perdurance of the Indian Languages.

The origin of this order was based on Archbishop Francisco Antonio Lorenzana y Buitrón 's opinions expressed in the “Pastoral V of the most illustrious Mr. Lorenzana for that the Indians learn Spanish”. The archbishop argued that maintaining indigenous languages encouraged the disobedience of the peoples (perhaps based on his experience after the expulsion of the Jesuits which caused Indian uprisings) and that this was a danger to the Crown.

Even though initially in Mexico in the 16th century education and conversion were done in indigenous languages, and in the case of the Colegio this education was multilingual and tended to favor indigenous and other bilingual individuals, by 1696 Charles II adopted a first decree banning the use of any languages other than Spanish throughout the Spanish Empire. This was followed later on by various other legislative measures, all leading up finally in the Cedula Real (royal decree) of 1770 which had the clear purpose of eliminating indigenous languages in the colonies of the Spanish king. It was almost but not completely successful because many indigenous languages still survive today, though in a much weakened and precarious condition for many. Where the Cedula was highly successful was in ending almost all the teaching of and writing in indigenous languages and the “Hispanisation” of indigenous peoples – and their increasing exclusion from most areas of economic and political advancement in the Empire.

Most indigenous languages in Latin America thus moved from an initial position of favor, destined to facilitate conversion efforts and the administration of territories, to an increasingly repressive situation, a phenomenon which gained speed in the 18th century in most European colonies, north and south. The use of the Tupí language in Brazil was similarly initially encouraged by the Portuguese authorities in their colony in the New World as the lingua franca. Gradually, this linguistic compromise would be replaced by mere toleration of indigenous languages until finally they could be suppressed in the 18th century.  


El Rey. Por quanto el Muy Reverendo Arzobispo de Mexico me ha representado... que en los vastos dominios de la America se propago la Fe Catholica, todo mi desvelo... y de mi Consejo de las Indias, ha sido publicar Leyes, y dirigir Reales Cedulas a los Virreyes, y Prelados Diocesanos, a fin de que se instruya a los Indios en los Dogmas de nuestra Religion en Castellano, y se les enseñe a leer, y escribir en este idioma, que se debe extender, y hacer único, y universal en los mismos Dominios, por ser el propio de los Monarcas, y Conquistadores, para facilitar la administración, y pasto espiritual a los naturales, y que estos puedan ser entendidos de los Superiores, tomen amor a la Nacion Conquistadora, destierren la Idolatria, se civilizen para el trato, y Comercio…


Old quarter folds to the Cedula, signed Yo Rey else very good. Only one copy traced in Spain, no copies in USA (OCLC).

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