Ten Minutes With… Yuni Kim

Posted on December 19, 2014 by

Next up is Yuni Kim or, for those of us familiar with the desperation of IPA transcription practice 5 minutes before our exam, [juni kɪm]. Originally from Pennsylvania, Yuni studied at Harvard and later at the University of California at Berkeley, specialising in phonology and phonetics. Although Yuni never intended to end up in the UK, she’s still here nearly 6 years on and is now also the Senior Academic Advisor for undergraduate students.

Manchet: Why does linguistics matter?
Yuni Kim: I think because language is such a big part of everyday life and everything we do, and to be walking around in complete ignorance of it is not good. It’s good to understand your environment, just like we understand the water cycle and things that happen around us. Language is even in us, and to be able to appreciate how complex it is is important to your sense of general awareness as a human being.

M: Can you solve a Rubik’s cube?
YK: No. I had a Rubik’s cube when I was little, and this other product called the Rubik’s clock. There’s like 9 clocks and you have to turn the wheels to try and get all these little clocks to show the same time, but each wheel only turns some of the clocks. I think I tried a little bit but… no. [M: For all your procrastination needs, you can find Yuni’s Rubik’s clock here]

M: If you weren’t a linguist, what would you be doing?
YK: I have no idea. I took the law school entrance exam which is what people do at Harvard when they don’t know what else to do. I did think I might be an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teacher. But I did the thought experiment that you’re supposed to – ‘what’s the one thing you would do if money was no concern?’ – and I wanted to go to different countries and learn different languages and study them. And I realised that was still linguistics!

M: At the cinema or on an aeroplane, which arm-rest is yours? And can you elbow your neighbour if they take up your space?
YK: It’s not acceptable to elbow them because it’s showing contempt for them and they might not have meant anything bad. Usually I don’t need the armrests, so that’s ok, because most people are bigger than me. I can usually fit in on some corner if I need to. [Manchet suggests that Yuni could adopt some typically British passive aggressive huffing and puffing] Well, it’s difficult. I like not to be mean to people, but maybe it’s the only way.

M: Have you ever bought a present for someone that they really disliked?
YK: Once I gave my brother a bracelet, one of those friendship bracelets that you weave, for his birthday. And he was upset because I was supposed to be making one for him anyway and I just used his birthday as an excuse to finish it instead of getting him something else. And it was extra insulting because I had made some for other friends in the meantime. I still feel bad about that.
[M: We can confirm that, to this day, Yuni’s brother has still not received his actual present.]

M: Describe the LEL Department using 3 words (of any language)
YK: I would say ‘open-minded’. I think academically people are open to many approaches to language and different types of research questions. I would say ‘laid-back’, because there’s not this expectation that you work for 24 hours a day. If you do that either as a lecturer or as a student then your studies are no longer something that is enriching you. It loses its purpose if it’s not in context of some life that you’re living. And ‘busy’. Everyone here is doing multiple things, interacting with different groups of people, people have multiple projects, students are taking up to six modules. So it’s this hive of activity.

The photo of Yuni is from Stephanie Shih’s project, A Snapshot of the Field: Linguistics.