January 20, 2016

SIU to host linguistics olympiad Jan. 28

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. – Are you savvy enough to detect a bot-written review from a real review on a crowd-sourced review website? Or can you convert Yoda-isms to standard English? 

If so, and if you are a middle or high school student between the ages of 13 and 18, you might enjoy the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad (NACLO), a problem-solving competition for those who might give Sherlock Holmes a run for his money. 

The Department of Linguistics at Southern Illinois University Carbondale hosts an open round for NACLO on Jan. 28 in the Engineering Building, A Wing, Room 220. The contest itself begins at 9 a.m., and students should plan to arrive approximately 45 minutes early for registration, seating and instructions. 

Despite the term “linguistics,” student competitors do not need prior experience with either linguistics or second languages. They should, however, be interested in language, or enjoy puzzles or logic games. 

The January event is an open round, meaning it is open to all middle and high school students. Those who do well in the open round have the chance to go on to the invitational round, set for March 10 at SIU. The invitational round results in national winners, who may go on to compete at the International Linguistics Olympiad. 

The format resembles a written exam, with students answering, in the open round, five to eight problems. The problems are written to contain all the information needed to solve them. For example, some problems may involve language translation but the skills needed to solve them are logical thinking or maybe a knack for code breaking, not foreign language acquisition. Other problems may involve numbers, writing systems such as hieroglyphs, calendar systems, or others.   

The NACLO website includes practice problems, including problems from previous competitions and student-submitted problems. For example, a student-submitted problem asks to find two words that both alliterate and rhyme, and a question from a previous year asks students to match Viking gods, identified by the names commonly used in English, with their names written in the Elder Futhark rune alphabet.

“This is SIU’s first year as a host site,” Jeffrey Punske, assistant professor of linguistics, said. “We are very excited to have the opportunity to get involved.” 

Because the event is new to the area, Punske said he expects a small turnout, but he hopes that as students and educators learn more about it, the SIU site will become more popular. Contact him with questions at punske@siu.edu. Register for the event at http://www.nacloweb.org/register_student.php. Or visit the local website at http://cola.siu.edu/linguistics/naclo-2016/.