This introduction poses the central question of this special issue: how did New Spain's colonial institutions and ethnically diverse colonial subjects use Nahuatl to administer and navigate a multilingual society? In response, I lay out a framework drawn from the articles and my own research that emphasizes the following themes: the importance of place and regional context in studies of language use; cleavages and connections between writing and speaking; language acquisition at the interface of the institutional and quotidian in colonial society; and language use as a means of shaping and negotiating interethnic relations and social status. I close the introduction by suggesting new avenues for research, including language use in everyday life, the development of regional forms of languages, and the making of language ideologies locally and colony-wide.

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