Scholars of indigenous societies in colonial Latin America have long noted the contrast between the abundance of indigenous-language records from Mesoamerica and their extreme scarcity in the Andes. This article evaluates the degree to which written Quechua was used in everyday communication and record keeping among the indigenous population of colonial Peru by examining a corpus of Quechua documents, mostly letters and petitions from the seventeenth century. The linguistic features and archival contexts of these documents are analyzed to determine the extent and channels of alphabetic literacy in Quechua. The article argues that a standardized written form of Quechua developed by the church was in fact widely used among the indigenous elite, but that it never became an important medium of internal administrative record keeping in indigenous communities, as did occur with Nahuatl and other Mesoamerican languages.

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