Kwantlen Polytechnic University English instructor Kris Singh published “‘I know the world by how I speak the world’: TikTok ABCs, Disaster Language, and Andrew Salkey’s Hurricane,” in the peer-reviewed journal Archipelagos.
The article focuses on how social media, particularly TikTok, alters the cultural practices circulating in the Caribbean. The article analyzes videos made by the creator Stephon Felmine teaching the ABCs by making use of Caribbean vernacular language.
Singh chose the platform TikTok because of its rising popularity and usage by young people to connect and access knowledge. He says Caribbean vernacular is often used humorously on social media which leads to the perception of the vernacular as amusing, even when it’s not supposed to be. Through the article, Singh investigates the risks of cultural misunderstanding and willful misrepresentation in the use of TikTok.
When did you join the KPU community and why?
I joined in September 2021, so I am nearing the two-year anniversary of joining KPU. Prior to that I was in Kingston, Ontario doing contract work. So, I had to keep an eye on the job market to seek out more permanent work. A lot of academics are actually in that kind of precarious position where future teaching opportunities are not necessarily guaranteed. Once I saw that KPU’s English department was advertising a new position to broaden the range of courses they can offer, I was eager to apply because it matched my field of expertise. Once I started learning about the institution, the department, and about the students KPU serves, I saw how it was an institution that emphasizes student-oriented teaching, meaning that it aims to serve different types of learners and that really appealed to me. So, once I got the position, I was quite happy.
What is your favourite story of your time at KPU?
I particularly enjoyed being a part of the Intersectional Social Justice Essay Awards last year. This was the first time the English department offered these awards that recognize the best English essays that broach social justice in some way. As a teacher, it’s always gratifying to formally recognize the stellar work of students in this way. Whether or not you teach them personally, seeing students being recognized for their hard work is really enjoyable. Also seeing KPU, the English department, and people outside the department come together for this event and celebrate student work in this way was really one of my favorite moments at KPU so far.
What is something you’d like to say to people new to KPU?
KPU students are quite impressive. This is very obvious in my classes where I see students offer really complex arguments and ideas. Even in my first-year classes, it’s really obvious that students are entering the university with strengths. Last year, when I was teaching my English 1100 classes, I had a chance to talk to students about their relationships with language, how accent discrimination might affect our lives or how using so-called bad or broken English might change how people treat you, and also how some of us are navigating multiple languages.
I learned at that point more than a few of my students in my first-year class speak two, three, or four languages. This was quite eye opening in many ways because these are students who are coming into the classrooms knowing what it is to negotiate these languages according to who they are speaking to. They are constantly shifting how they use language based on whether they are talking to a family member, a friend, a co-worker, a professor, and it’s really admirable that they have this sophisticated sense of communication before coming into the classroom. So, I would say to anybody new to KPU that there’s a deep, cultural richness that is quietly at work in every KPU classroom.
What are you working on or doing right now?
I’m preparing for the start of the semester. I have the opportunity to teach English 3345, Diasporic Literatures, this semester which I have not taught before, so I am spending a lot of time getting it ready. In this course, we will be looking at literature from the Black Atlantic or literature that connects Africa and North America, and the Caribbean and England. We will be thinking about the sea as a space of cultural production, so how voluntary and forced crossings of the Atlantic Ocean transformed our understanding of ourselves and the world.
I’m also finalizing a research article about a writer named Sam Selvon, and his representation of indentureship in the Caribbean. This is based on a paper I presented earlier this year at the Canadian Association for Postcolonial Studies Conference in Toronto, and it was well received. I’ve been further developing these ideas over the past few months. The article is now moving through the peer review process so I’m splitting my time between the course preparation and wrapping up this article.
What is something you’d like people to know about you?
I came to Canada as an international student. While the challenges I faced as an international student many years ago are not necessarily the same challenges that international students face today at KPU, I strive to be attentive to how international students might be dealing with culture shock, homesickness, loneliness, financial burdens, housing issues, health insurance issues, and a host of other problems. To that end, I joined the Ad Hoc Sub-Committee for Faculty and International Student Success at KPU. This is a committee that strives to advocate within the institution for the needs of international students and we are looking for more student volunteers. If any students share an interest with these concerns, they should feel free to get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.