Mesoamerican literacies: Indigenous writing systems and contemporary possibilities

Robert T. Jiménez, Patrick H. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article presents the argument that consideration of non-European and nonalphabetic writing makes possible new understandings of literacy and, in addition, that contemporary literacy forms and practices can be fully understood only by expanding our historical perspective. The field of literacy research remains largely unaware of the multimodal literacies developed and employed by Mesoamerican indigenous peoples. Instead, contemporary understandings of written language are built upon an ideological foundation that privileges writing traditions first developed in Africa and Asia. Responding to theorists' calls for literacy researchers to integrate historical understandings with their research designs, the authors examine the relevant primary and secondary sources on Mesoamerican literacies as represented in indigenous and colonial documents. In this historical inquiry, the authors first present applicable theoretical and methodological considerations for connecting past and contemporary literacies. They then identify the ideological and philosophical bases of the Mesoamerican literacy systems and discuss what is known about how they functioned, before attempting to reconstruct some pre-Columbian literacy practices. Finally, they examine selected contemporary Mexican uses of written language as examples of continuity with past practices. The authors' interpretation of this body of work is grounded in their disciplinary backgrounds, knowledge of the literature, and theoretical orientations, leading to an informed and evidence-based perspective.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)28-46
Number of pages19
JournalReading Research Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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