Tag Archives: Mai Kuha

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

Professor Mike Donnelly Publishes Book (And More December/January Good News)

Prof. Mike Donnelly‘s book, Freedom of Speech and the Function of Rhetoric in the United States, was released on December Donnelly book15.

Prof. Jill Christman recently had two essays published: “The Alligator and the Baby” in TriQuarterly and “This Story” in Phoebe: A Journal of Literature & Art Since 1971Prof. Christman is also chairing the conference committee for AWP this year and will be delivering a welcome address on the opening night of the conference.

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.

Keep on reading!

Intern Tyler Fields Interviews Mai Kuha About her Work as a Linguist

In our latest post, English intern Tyler Fields interviews Assistant Professor Mai Kuha about her work as a linguist, her participation in Ball State’s Council on the Environment, and her future plans and publications. Additionally, Mai discusses her recent work in the fields of socio- and ecolinguistics. Continue reading below to see Mai’s interview.

*Photo provided by Mai Kuha

*Photo provided by Mai Kuha

Continue reading