This article adds to the discussion on standardisation of minority languages spoken in primarily oral cultures. Focusing on Amazonian Kichwa (Quechuan, lowland Ecuador), we show how the introduction of a written standard can undermine language transmission, prompt contradictory ideologies, and instil conflicting aims within speech communities. Our approach combines descriptive linguistics and ethnography. First, we examine the extent of variation within Amazonian Kichwa and compare the local varieties with the standard. We juxtapose this with the speakers’ perceptions of and attitudes towards variation, evidenced in their linguistic practices and discourse. We show that these perceptions have little to do with the features being standardised, but this does not preclude the speakers’ having clear attitudes towards what the perceived standard. To explain this, we propose that Amazonian Kichwa speakers value authenticity above mutual intelligibility, contrary to ideologies assigning value to languages as potential tools of wider communication. To conclude, we provide policy recommendations grounded in this study, but applicable to minoritised oral varieties in other contexts.