Mexico’s Babel: Multilingualism, Law, and Society in Oaxaca from Colony to Republic


ACLS Fellowship Program




Multilingualism posed a problem to Mexico’s rulers from colonialism’s inception. “Mexico’s Babel” analyzes how the use and interplay of Spanish and indigenous languages in local courts structured inter-ethnic relations, knitted together state-centered and customary law, and put into dialogue liberalism and cultural pluralism. Set in Oaxaca, Mexico’s most polyglot region, the study illuminates how language policy and linguistic practices shaped indigenous peoples’ access to courts and the interpretation and application of the law from circa 1660-1852. “Mexico’s Babel” contributes to scholarship that bridges the late-colonial and national eras by asking how indigenous peoples fared in their transition from subjecthood to citizenship through the lens of law-society relations.