The International Linguistics Olympiad

« previous post | next post »

From the news page at the LSA — "NACLO teams win nine medals at International Linguistics Olympiad":

Two USA teams and one Canada team, each consisting of four high school students, won eight individual medals and a team medal at the 13th International Linguistics Olympiad, held July 20-24 in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. The USA contestants also took five of the top ten places in the individual contest, including three gold medals. USA Red also finished in first place among 44 teams based on the combined score of its members in the individual contest.

The IOL, one of twelve international science olympiads, consists of two events. The first is the individual contest, a six hour exam with five problems, which this year focused on Kabardian, Wambaya, Somali Masafo, Nahuatl, and Arammba, as well as on Soundex, an algorithm for phonetic classification of names. The team contest is the second event of the IOL, in which team members collaborate to solve one particularly challenging problem. This year, teams were tasked with translating excerpts from a Northern Sotho dictionary. Problem solving at the IOL stresses the ability of contestants to decipher the mechanisms of languages by using logic and reasoning to explore a wide range of hypotheses.  

Individual Round: Three US contestants, James Wedgwood of Washington, James Bloxham of Massachusetts, and Kevin Yang of Washington, won gold medals in the individual round, with James Wedgwood also earning the top individual score from among 165 contestants from 29 countries. Silver medals went to three US contestants, Kevin M Li of California, Conor Stuart-Roe of North Carolina, and Julian Gau of New Jersey. Nilai Sarda of Georgia and Emma McLean of Nova Scotia won bronze medals. Finally, Kevin Q Li of New Jersey, Ben Zhang of Ontario, and James Hyett of Ontario were awarded honorable mentions. James Bloxham and James Wedgwood received best solution awards for Problem 3 and Problem 5, respectively. Team USA Red’s combined scores on the individual score were the highest of any team. The two US teams (Red and Blue) had a massive average score of 62 points, way above all other teams; the United States has held the 'blue cup' which goes to the highest combined individual score for six of the last nine years.

Team Round: Team USA Red finished second on the team problem, following Team UK West. Team Poland White and Team Netherlands tied for third place.

There were 1,700 participants in total this year.

The USA team's coaches were Dragomir Radev and Lori Levin; the Canadian team's coach was Patrick Littell. This year's problems are here. Information about the program in general, and about past competitions, is available on NACLO's web site.



  1. Oliver Sayeed said,

    July 31, 2015 @ 4:30 am

    Also of note from Blagoevgrad – the best ever score from the UK teams this year! Two golds (both by young team members), a silver, a bronze, and three honorable mentions, as well as a win for UK West in the team competition.

  2. Bean said,

    July 31, 2015 @ 6:02 am

    That looks like fun! I often think if I hadn't been a scientist, I might have turned to linguistics instead…a similarly appealing combination of math, acoustics, logic, and decoding/puzzles, plus some irrational-human stuff thrown in to confuse things.

  3. Aaron said,

    July 31, 2015 @ 7:10 am

    Are the solutions to the problems listed anywhere? I'd like to give them a try but I'd also like to know if I'm right!

  4. Dragomir Radev said,

    July 31, 2015 @ 9:25 am

    The solutions are below the problems on this page:

  5. Thomas Rees said,

    July 31, 2015 @ 12:07 pm

    Ahem! "if I hadn't been a scientist, I might have turned to linguistics”?

  6. Guy said,

    July 31, 2015 @ 12:40 pm

    I want to post Bean's comment to an economics blog, substituting "economics" for "linguistics" and "social behavior" or something for "acoustics", to see the reaction it would get.

  7. Guy said,

    July 31, 2015 @ 2:47 pm

    "Two USA teams and one Canada team"

    Am I the only one for whom this is unidiomatic? I imagine what happened is "USA teams" was selected to avoid "American teams" and then parallelism motivated "Canada team" instead of "Canadian team". It really is unfortunate that there's no suitable adjective to replace "American". Maybe we could borrow Spanish "estadounidense", which sounds (to me) a lot better than "United Statesian", although here I would have been fine with "two teams representing the US and one Canadian team".

  8. Guy said,

    July 31, 2015 @ 2:49 pm

    Or even "two US teams and on Canadian team", honestly.

  9. Thomas Rees said,

    July 31, 2015 @ 3:17 pm

    "Canada team" parallels "England team" which sounds idiomatic to me, but then I follow international Rugby Union.

  10. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 31, 2015 @ 3:35 pm

    Guy: For more entertainment, you could post "If I'd wanted to be a scientist, I'd probably have gone into linguistics or economics" on a physics or chemistry blog.

  11. Rubrick said,

    July 31, 2015 @ 5:14 pm

    I'm a bit surprised — and certainly impressed — that someone's list of a dozen fields worthy of an international olympiad included Linguistics.

    And chiming in on the Bean thread, for my money myl is as damn fine a scientist as one could hope for. The traditional division between science and humanties, based on the topic under study, is to my mind antiquated, silly, and harmful. Science isn't (or shouldn't be) about what you study, but how you study it.

    Here's my rule of thumb: If you're striving to come to a conclusion based on a systematic analysis of evidence, it's science. If you're just making stuff up, it's humanities.

  12. ThomasH said,

    August 2, 2015 @ 8:36 pm

    "I want to post Bean's comment to an economics blog, substituting "economics" for "linguistics" and "social behavior" or something for "acoustics", to see the reaction it would get."

    Pleased surprise, I'd guess.

  13. un malpaso said,

    August 3, 2015 @ 11:27 am

    I love trying these problems out. Also, if it weren't for linguists, who would truly appreciate Kabardian? :) (other than the native speakers that is)

RSS feed for comments on this post