Survey Seminar Series Spring 2023

The Survey of English Usage organises a number of seminars each year for staff and students from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities and beyond. They are generously sponsored by the English Department.

The following research seminar took place during the Spring term.

Wednesday 8 February, 4.15pm, Room 4, 188 Tottenham Court Road

Guyanne Wilson, University College London
Indexicality, enregisterment and identity on social media: Focus on Caribbean TikTokers

In the Caribbean, where English-lexicon Creoles are spoken alongside local varieties of Standard English, Creole use has long been viewed as an overt marker of local identity (e.g. Le Page and Tabouret-Keller, Shields-Brodber 1997, Youssef 2004). However, less is known about the mechanisms through which speakers make use of Creole forms and how exactly identity is performed in interaction. In this presentation, I apply the concepts of indexical order (Silverstein 2003, Johnstone and Kiesling 2008) and enregisterment (Agha 2006) to a series of videos called the Caribbean Alphabet Series produced by TikTokers from Barbados, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago. The TikTokers draw on widely known lexical items — third order indexes — to perform their identities as authentic, knowledgeable speakers of their respective varieties, and thereby contribute to the ongoing process of enregistering these features as typical of those varieties. However, the speakers also make use of first and second order indexes, which allow them to do more subtle identity work throughout the videos.


Agha, A. (2006). Language and Social Relations (Studies in the Social and Cultural Foundations of Language). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511618284

Johnstone, B., & Kiesling, S. F. (2008). Indexicality and experience: Exploring the meanings of/aw/-monophthongization in Pittsburgh 1. Journal of sociolinguistics, 12(1), 5-33.

Tabouret-Keller, A., & Le Page, R. B. (1985). Acts of identity: Creole-based approaches to language and ethnicity. Cambridge University Press.

Shields-Brodber, K. (1997). Requiem for English in an “English-speaking” community: The case of Jamaica. In E. Schneider (ed.) Englishes around the world, 2, 57-67.

Silverstein, M. (2003). Indexical order and the dialectics of sociolinguistic life. Language & communication, 23(3-4), 193-229.

Youssef, V. (2004). ‘Is English we speaking’: Trinbagonian in the twenty-first century. English Today, 20(4), 42-49.

Past events

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