Tag Archives: Language

Mai Kuha: The Year of My Meme

Dear reader, I have something to ask you. I am taking the plunge and mentioning Finland, something I have avoided fastidiously for my 18+ years at Ball State so as not to get inaccurately and permanently categorized as being from Finland. If you could refrain from labeling me that way, I would be so thankful. My genetic material is from there, I have relatives there, and I have made an effort to know the language, but almost my entire life has taken place elsewhere. I have about the same amount of information about Finland as a casual tourist, and will live there one day only if my retirement plans go horribly wrong.

The rain on that July day in 2016 in Helsinki was unreasonably chilly. I took refuge in a trendy library and visited the restroom. After a glance around to check that no other library patrons were present to disapprove of my behavior, I set to studying the graffiti in the restroom. The spontaneous, unedited nature of graffiti –in restrooms or elsewhere– interests linguists, often offering insights on language change in progress, among other things.

An inscription written in a bold hand drew my eye: my name was in it. I’ll opt for euphemism in translating the strongly worded message: “Stick those darn kuha stories where the sun don’t shine”.

How had it come to this?

At some point in 2015, an anonymous genius had realized that a certain pun in Finnish was perfect for a meme. It begins with an ordinary, humorless sentence that fits this frame: “[positive outcome] so long as [condition]” – for example, “Everything is fine so long as you remember to enjoy life”. “So long as” in Finnish is “kunhan”. The fun begins when we replace “kunhan” with the shortened form  “kuha”, which is vernacular and therefore creates a mildly humorous contrast when inserted in profound statements. In addition, “kuha” also refers to a type of fish, the pike-perch. Continue reading

Department Dialogue: What Does Linguistics Mean to You?

Ball State University professors Mai Kuha, Mary Lou Vercellotti, Megumi Hamada, and Elizabeth M. Riddle share what role linguistics has played in their life and what it has grown to mean to them.

Mai Kuha

Languages have always had a central role in my life. Three languages were used regularly in my family when I was a child. In my teens, I tried to teach myself Arabic, Malay, Mandarin Chinese, Old Norse, and Russian. I managed to get my hands on some books on linguistics somehow, even though no one I knew had ever heard of it.

I read about Washoe, the signing chimpanzee, who was about my age, and I came to regard her as a cousin I had never met. I read about the sentence “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously,” which is obviously very pleasing but was not presented for its aesthetic value, but for the purpose of showing that meaning and structure can be considered separately: the sentence is structurally fine but odd meaningwise. I began to learn that observing the precise details of how people say what they say can allow us to reach startling insights, to shed light on the inner workings of the human mind. Having always been introspective, I found it satisfying and intriguing to see a path towards understanding cognition more deeply, in a rational, systematic, evidence-based way.

For many years, I communicated with no one about most of these ideas. As an undergraduate, I tried to do the responsible thing and got a degree in computer science. Ultimately, I had the courage to come to my senses, and one day found myself in Bloomington, meeting with Dr. Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig to kick off my graduate work in linguistics at Indiana University. I remember nothing of that meeting, except that my gaze kept straying to a hanging on her office wall. There was text on it, a poem. The last line was shockingly familiar: colorless green ideas sleep furiously.

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Undergraduate Student Morgan Aprill Discusses Her Writing Fellowship and Her Research Project on Tutoring

MorganAprill

Morgan Aprill is an English literature student at Ball State University with minors in Spanish and professional writing. She is entering her senior year as an undergraduate at the university in the fall. In addition to her work on the “Digital Literature Review,” she currently works as a tutor at the English Department Writing Center. She is conducting a research fellowship with two of her professors about tutoring and composition in second languages, with hopes of publishing the findings in a peer-reviewed research journal. She is a recent recipient of the Carol S Chalk Memorial Scholarship awarded to outstanding tutors in the Writing Center.

I was approached by Dr. Kuriscak, one of my previous Spanish professors, and Dr. Grouling, the Director of the Writing Center, at the end of the 12-13 school year. As a Spanish minor, I took Dr. Kuriscak’s Spanish 202 class at the end of my sophomore year. Both professors knew I worked as a tutor in the Writing Center and that I was also in the Honors College, so they thought I was the perfect candidate for the research they were interested in pursuing concerning alternative tutoring methods. Dr. Grouling had been in conversation with Dr. Kuriscak about ways the Center could aid students who were working on writing for their foreign language classes. The professors came up with the idea of trying out a writing fellow who would work with Dr. Kuriscak’s Spanish composition classes. That’s where I came in.

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Preserving Indigenous Languages in Mexico: Carolyn Mackay and Frank Trechsel

According to National Geographic Society’s Enduring Voices Project, the endangered languages of our planet are disappearing at a rate of about one every 14 days.  Two of Ball State English Department’s faculty, Drs. Carolyn MacKay and Frank Trechsel, are among those who are working towards preserving endangered and disappearing languages. Follow the link provided below to read a recent profile from Ball State’s website that describes Professors MacKay and Trechsel’s preservation efforts and that chronicles some of their recent research.

Día de San Juan celebration in Ozelonacaxtla, Puebla, Mexico

Ball State Article: http://bit.ly/LfTXmH