The first Nahuatl and Quechua grammars were published before the English one

Cultural genocide? This is how Spain helped to preserve the indigenous languages of America

The anti-Spanish black legend, once promoted by rival countries and today by the extreme left, is based on hoaxes that do not withstand a slight analysis of the facts.

Spain did not commit any genocide in America: what it did was to end one
10 reasons to vindicate the Hispanic cultural heritage of the United States

We have already reviewed here the hoax of the Spanish genocide in America, which is one of the most repeated lies by left-wing extremists today. But from that end of the political map, not only is Spain falsely accused of having committed an "extermination" against the indigenous peoples of America, but they also speak of a "cultural genocide", an even more ridiculous accusation. We are going to review some facts that throw that accusation to the ground.

The first grammars in history

In 1492, precisely the year in which Spain discovered America, Antonio de Nebrija published his "Castilian Grammar", which was the first grammar in the world, that is, the first study written about a language and its rules of use. To give us an idea:

  • The first Italian grammar dates back to 1516 (the "Regole grammaticali della volgar lingua" by Giovanni Francesco Fortunio).
  • The first French grammar was published in 1530 (the "Lesclarcissement de la langue françoyse", written by an Englishman, John Palsgrave).
  • The first German grammar is from 1534 ("Teutsche Grammatica", by Valentin Ickelsamer).
  • The first Portuguese gramátia dates back to 1536 (the "Gramática da Linguagem Portuguesa" by Fernão de Oliveira).
  • The first grammar of English did not appear until 1586 (William Bullokar's "Pamphlet for Grammar").
The "Grammatica o arte de la lengua general de los indios de los reynos del Perú" of the Spanish missionary Domingo de Santo Tomás. It was the first grammar of the Quechua language, published in 1560, 26 years before the publication of the first English grammar (Photo: John Carter Brown Library).

The first grammars of pre-Columbian languages arrived before the English one

When they arrived in America, and with the purpose of transmitting the evangelical message to the indigenous people, the Spanish missionaries began to learn the pre-Columbian languages. This is how they were preserved for posterity. To give us an idea:

  • The first grammar of Nahuatl was written in 1531 by Spanish Franciscan missionaries (today the text is lost), that is, before the first grammars of German, Portuguese and English were published. The oldest surviving grammar is from 1547 ("Arte de la lengua mexicana", written by the Spanish Franciscan missionary Andrés de Olmos). It is 39 years before the first English grammar. It should also be noted that in 1570 King Philip II of Spain decreed that Nahuatl be the official language of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, which encompassed what is now Mexico, a large part of what is now the territory of the United States and Central America. Although it declared its independence in 1810, Mexico did not declare Nahuatl as an official language until 2021.
  • In 1560 the first grammar of Quechua was published in Spain ("Grammatica o arte de la lengua general de los indios de los reynos del Perú", by the missionary Domingo de Santo Tomás). The work was published in Valladolid 26 years before the publication of the first English grammar.
  • In 1643 the first grammar of Guaraní was published ("Breve introducción para aprender la lengua guaraní", by the Jesuit Alonso de Aragona). Paraguay did not designate this language as an official language until 1992, even though that country became independent in 1782.
The book Arte de la Lengua Mexicana" by Antonio Carochi, published in 1645 (Photo: Fundación Alfredo Harp Helú Oaxaca).

In America, books were printed in pre-Columbian languages before English

Let us also remember that in 1535 the Spanish installed the first printing press in America, in Mexico. The printing press was not used in America only to print books in Spanish:

  • In 1546 the first book printed in Nahuatl was published ("Doctrina christiana breue traduzida en lengua mexicana", by the Spanish priest Alonso de Molina).
  • Before 1555, the first printed books in Zapotec, Mixtec, Tarascan, and Huastec were published, copies of which have been lost. Only fragments of some of them are preserved.
  • In 1555 the first printed vocabulary in an American indigenous language was published ("Aqui comiença vn vocabulario en la lengua Castellana y Mexicana", by Alonso de Molina, written in Spanish and Nahuatl).
  • In 1585 the first book printed in the Quechua and Aymara languages was published ("Doctrina Christiana", by Antonio Ricardo).

To give you an idea, the first book printed in the British colonies of North America was published in 1640 ("Bay Psalm Book", in English). The first Spanish books in pre-Columbian languages were printed before the first printed works appeared in Romanian (1561), Irish Gaelic (1564) and Russian (1564).

The "Doctrina Christiana" by Antonio Ricardo, published in 1585, was the first book printed in the Quechua and Aymara languages (Photo: University of Pennsylvania / Wikimedia).

Nahuatl and Quechua reached their maximum expansion with the Spanish Empire

It should also be noted that in 1580 King Philip II ordered the creation of chairs for indigenous languages in the universities of Lima and Mexico and in cities with Royal Courts, a milestone that is unparalleled in no other empire in history. Thanks to this work of preserving pre-Columbian languages, Nahuatl and Quechua reached their greatest expansion during the Spanish Empire, even more so than during the Aztec Empire and the Inca Empire (which were their places of origin, respectively) and that in the recent history of the countries where these languages are still used (Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, in the case of Nahuatl, and Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador and Colombia, in the case of Quechua).

Thus, Spain not only contributed a great vehicular language to the peoples of America (Spanish is the second language with the most native speakers in the world: 471 million), but it also helped to preserve pre-Columbian languages. The facts that we have just reviewed do not correspond, not even remotely, with that "cultural genocide" that some speak of. In any case, it would be good if the extreme left explained if its concept of the destruction of a language includes printing books and grammars and creating chairs to preserve it.

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