The article outlines the formation and spread of alphabetic writing and reading in Colonial Yucatán. Over the colonial period, Maya people adapted to, appropriated, and ultimately expropriated alphabetic writing for their own purposes. Drawing on what Matthew Restall has called the New Philology and on recent trends in missionary linguistics, this article explores the distinctive characteristics of alphabetic writing, which was a potent force in reshaping Maya communicative practices. I argue that the flexibility, portability, and universal applicability of the graphic alphabet to spoken language made it a uniquely powerful vector for the spread of discourse of all kinds—some of it sanctioned and some not. The written word was in constant alternation with oral enunciation, and writing flourished beyond the confines of colonial order, in the forbidden genres. The same properties that made alphabetic writing a productive part of the project of reducción also made it impossible to control once introduced among the Maya.

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