Press Release: Top Linguistics Students from Around the World Will Compete at Carnegie Mellon July 24-30-Carnegie Mellon News - Carnegie Mellon University

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Press Release: Top Linguistics Students from Around the World Will Compete at Carnegie Mellon July 24-30

First U.S. Site To Host International Linguistics Olympiad

Contact: Byron Spice/ 412-268-9068 /

IOLPITTSBURGH—Visitors to Pittsburgh may sometimes be confused by the local dialect, but that's not likely to be a problem for high school students from around the globe who will be competing in the International Linguistics Olympiad (IOL), hosted for the first time in the United States by Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) July 24-30.

After all, students who eagerly decipher the Japanese version of Braille or puzzle out the meaning of words in Lalana Chinantec, a language spoken by just 10,000 people in part of Mexico, are unlikely to be thrown by a little Pittsburghese, such as "yinz" instead of "you."

More than 100 students from 19 countries are expected to compete in this year's IOL, which has received major funding from the National Science Foundation. Working in four-person teams, they will tackle a series of brain-teasing written problems that force them to identify similarities and patterns across a range of languages, potentially including both ancient and make-believe ones.

"The competition brings out the best in students who have an aptitude not only for linguistics, but analytical skills that are useful in computer science generally, as well as in mathematics," said Lori Levin, associate research professor in CMU's Language Technologies Institute and the local organizing chair for the IOL. "We find that our U.S. linguistics team often has overlapping members with the U.S. math team."

Volunteers will be live blogging at the IOL news site,, and the public also can follow the IOL on Twitter and Facebook. For those who want to challenge themselves, problems for this year's individual contest will be posted online at 9 a.m. Tuesday, July 26, and the problems for the team contest will be posted after 9 a.m. Thursday, July 28. Sample problems also are available on the IOL website.

The competition traces its history to 1965, when the first linguistic olympiad for secondary school students was organized in Moscow. Later, similar contests were organized in St. Petersburg, as well as in Bulgaria, the Netherlands and Oregon. Based on the success of these programs, the International Linguistics Olympiad was launched in 2003, when 33 contestants from 6 countries faced off in Borovets, Bulgaria.

In the U.S. and Canada, the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad (NACLO) began conducting annual competitions in 2006. More than 1,000 high school students competed last year at multiple sites, including CMU, and online. Earlier this year, the Linguistics Society of America awarded NACLO its Linguistics, Language and the Public Award for increasing awareness of linguistics.

The top scorers in NACLO go on to compete as U.S. teams at the IOL. Adam Hesterberg, a gold medal winner on the 2007 U.S. team who went on to major in math at Princeton University, is the program committee chair for the IOL and in charge of creating the problems that this year's contestants will solve.

In addition to the NSF, support for the IOL comes from the Linguistic Society of America, the Association for Computational Linguistics, and academic departments at Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh.

The Language Technologies Institute is part of Carnegie Mellon's top-ranked School of Computer Science. Follow the school on Twitter @SCSatCMU.