Guaraní Native Language Suppression in Mid-18th-Century Paraguay

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 11:10 AM
Salon 2 (Palmer House Hilton)
Barbara Ganson, Florida Atlantic University
In 1743 Spain altered its colonial language policy by insisting that its missionaries encourage the use of Castilian in its missions. By requiring instruction in Spanish, the Bourbons intended that the indigenous people would obtain a better understanding of concepts in Christianity. In specific, the King of Spain ordered the provincial of the Society of Jesus in Paraguay to teach Spanish to Indian children that same year. The Jesuits however found it nearly impossible to put this decree into practice because the native Guaraní language was so widely spoken. In 1760 the crown circulated a similar decree, encouraging the eradication of native languages spoken in the Spanish Empire and requiring that only Spanish be spoken. King Charles III ordered that “Indians be taught the dogmas of our religion in Spanish and that they be taught to read and write in this language only… in order to improve the administration and spiritual well-being of the natural ones (referring to indigenous peoples) and so that they can understand their superiors, love the conquering nation, rid themselves of idolatry, and become civilized.” This essay will explore language attitudes in mid-eighteenth-century Paraguay, especially native reactions to Spain's shifting language policy. It will examine native texts to examine the extent to which the Guaraní became literate: who became literate and why. Language was a contentious issue in colonial society in the Rio de la Plata, reflecting the forces of domination and the relationships between power, education, literacy, and gender.