This paper sketches Spanish colonial policies toward Southern Peruvian Quechua in order to identify long-term trends and constants. I emphasize the following conjunctures in the debate on the status of the indigenous languages: (1) the simultaneous efforts to restrict the inroads of bilingualism in the legal and political domain and to encourage bilingualism among local headmen so as to facilitate indirect rule in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries; (2) the debate as to the role of the vernacular in religious education and missionary work in the same period, a debate in which the position favoring use of the vernacular held out for a time against calls for forced liquidation of the indigenous languages; (3) the ascendancy of the position calling for liquidation in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries; and (4) the role of Southern Peruvian Quechua as a nationalist emblem during the eighteenth century.
These conjunctures have considerable relevance today. Differences in vocabulary and ideological justification have obscured the continuity between colonial and modern language policy. The issues debated, the limits of the alternatives proposed as solutions, and even the practical efforts carried out on behalf of alternative policies, have been surprisingly perdurable. For four and a half centuries the “Andean language debate,” the issues and terms of language policy, have continued to have at their center the question of whether or not the Quechua have a right to exist as a separate community. (Language policy, colonialism, South America, Quechua)