Have you heard about the International Linguistics Olympiad
(IOL)? If not, you’re not alone. A lot of students haven’t heard about this Olympiad,
and that’s a pity — they’re missing out on an exciting opportunity.

Most people have heard about the International Olympiads in
Physics, Chemistry and even Informatics
(a.k.a. Programming). These are some of the the “International
Science Olympiads”, and are recognized by colleges and teachers across the
globe as the penultimate academic high school competitions. If you win a medal
in one of these competitions, you’re considered the cream — the very highest
outstanding achievement you could get.

[By the way, the olympiads that you write in school — NCO,
NSO, IMO and IEO — are not truly international olympiads. They are actually
competitive exams that are mostly restricted to India.]

The Linguistics Olympiad is one of the “International
Science Olympiads”. Over 30 countries from across the globe send teams of their
brightest high school students to solve challenging puzzles in Linguistics.

I’ve been to the Linguistics Olympiad. I went to Bulgaria in
July 2015 as part of Team India. I forged new friendships, experienced new cultures,
won an Honorable Mention and generally had a great time.

When I tell people about my experience, the first question I’m
asked is, “How many languages do you know?”

That’s
the thing: You don’t need to know multiple
languages. *ALL YOU NEED IS LOGIC!*
That’s right. If you liked the logic puzzles posted on the
Google+ site, then you’ll definitely enjoy solving Linguistics puzzles.

Here’s a sample.

And don’t be lazy. Spend some time on this and give it a
try! (In fact, if you can, print this image out. At the very least, grab some
rough sheets and write down your thoughts!)

First off: Most of you don’t know Swahili. And that’s the
point — no one’s supposed to be at an advantage here.

Let’s look at this problem analytically. If you haven’t
printed it out,

**. You won’t understand it otherwise!**__make sure you keep looking back at the question while reading my answer__- “
*tarehe*” is repeating in every single Swahili date. It probably means “*date*” in English. - “
*Disemba*”, “*Oktoba*” and “*Aprili*” sound suspiciously like English months. In this case, they definitely are. You can check by counting the number of times each Swahili month appears, and comparing that with the number of times each English month appear. - Look at the English dates (B) and (D). They’re
exactly the same, except for the number (2
^{nd}and 4^{th}). The two Swahili translations should also be exactly identical except for those two numbers. Look at Swahili dates (3) and (5). They are identical except for the second words (“*pili*” and “*nne*”). Now we know that “*Jumanne*” means “*Tuesday*”. We also now know that the format for writing Swahili dates is:

“

*tarehe*” <number> <month> <day>- With this new information, compare (1) and (F). “
*tatu*” is the number ‘*3*’. Make a list of all the Swahili number names, and try to find other correspondences. For instance, from (2), (4), (6) and (A), (C), (E), you can translate “*tano*” as the number ‘*5*’. - Did you notice that the day names in Swahili
also appear to have the names for numbers? “
*Juma*”, “*tatu**Juma*”, “*tano**Juma*”, “*pili**Juma*”.*nne*

We can guess that in Swahili, the days of the week are numbered (Day 1, Day 2… etc). - We know “
*tatu*” means ‘*3*’. That means “*Jumatatu*” is “*Day 3*”. Look at sentence (4). “*Day 3*” could be either “*Monday*”, “*Wednesday*” or “*Sunday*”. (Those are the days in the English dates containing “*October*”.)

Let’s assume that “*Day 3*” in (4) is “*Wednesday*”. Then, from sentence (6), “*Jumatano*” means “*Day 5*”, which should be “*Friday*”. However, none of (A), (C) and (E) contain the day “*Friday*”. That means the assumption is wrong.

Try assuming “*Sunday*” as “*Day 3*”. Can you find out where this assumption goes wrong?

Now try assuming “*Monday*” as “*Day 3*”. Does it work? - If “
*Day 3*” is “*Monday*”, then “*Day 1*” is “*Saturday*”. This means that the Swahili week begins on Saturday. (In contrast, we generally think of Sunday as the beginning of the week.) - From the translations of days and numbers you can work out all the other translations, match the dates, and complete the question.

To be fair, these problems aren’t exactly easy to solve. This problem, for example, would take anywhere between 10 minutes and an hour to solve.

However, no one said an International Olympiad was going to
be easy. The actual IOL consists of 5 questions to be solved in 6 hours. Yes,

**.**__6 hours__
Interested in giving it a try? I strongly recommend that you
do. To get selected, here’s what you have to do.

- Write the
**Panini Linguistics Olympiad**. It’s the national round of the Olympiad. - Be one of the 30 or so students from all over the country selected from that exam to attend a Training Camp. It’s sponsored by Microsoft and Xerox!
- Be one of the top 8 (or 12) students in the camp!

The only way to get better at this is with some practice. If you’d like to solve some more questions on your own,
start here: https://sites.google.com/site/paninilinguisticsolympiad/Resources/the-panini-junior-linguistics-olympiad

Then go here: https://sites.google.com/site/paninilinguisticsolympiad/Resources/the-panini-senior-linguistics-olympiad

Do you dare to try some of the most challenging Linguistics
puzzles ever designed? Choose from the past IOL problems over here: http://www.ioling.org/problems/

If you ever have any questions, or would like me to explain
how to go about solving some question, feel free to email me, or post on
Google+. I’ll make sure that all my answers are made available to everyone.

**. At the very least, let your friends know that something called the “Linguistics Olympiad” really exists, and send them the link to this blog post.**

__don’t keep this post to yourself__
Thanks for this post, Sesh!

ReplyDeleteUnfortunately, I read this post too late for me to participate in PLO 2016. But I shall definitely be signing up for PLO 2017.

Can I contact you on Facebook in case I have any questions?

Thanks once again

Very Interesting information shared on Linguistic Olympiad Exam. Thanks for the insights and experience compiled and posted. Good Luck!

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