Yesterday I referred to some Linguistic problems that could be solved just like mathematical puzzles, by finding patterns. I was talking to Batman at work today and it turns out that there is a whole Olympiad dedicated to puzzles just like that! Yes, it’s the International Olympiad in Linguistics, aimed at high school students, and you don’t have to be multilingual to enter. The most recent one was the 6th Annual IOL, which took place in Bulgaria August 4-9, 2008.

You can find links to the 2008 problems and solutions (in 9 different languages) on this page. There are five individual problems [worked on in a 6-hour time block] and one team problem.

Here’s one from the Individual Contest:

Problem #5 (20 points). The following are sentences in Inuktitut and their English translations:

1.. (Your dog saw you.)Qingmivit takujaatit

2.. (The boy shot the doctor.)Inuuhuktuup iluaqhaiji qukiqtanga

3.. (You hurt yourself.)Aanniqtutit

4.. (The doctor cured you.)Iluaqhaijiup aarqijaatit

5.. (You speared the dog.)Qingmiq iputujait

6.. (The shaman cured a doctor.)Angatkuq iluaqhaijimik aarqisijuq

7.. (The polar bear came.)Nanuq qaijuq

8.. (Your doctor cured your boy.)Iluaqhaijivit inuuhuktuit aarqijanga

9.. (The hunter speared the wolf.)Angunahuktiup amaruq iputujanga

10.. (The dog hurt your teacher.)Qingmiup ilinniaqtitsijiit aanniqtanga

11.. (You fell.)Ukiakhaqtutit

12.. (The hunter shot a polar bear.)Angunahukti nanurmik qukiqsijuq(a) Translate into English:

13..Amaruup angatkuit takujanga

14..Nanuit inuuhukturmik aanniqsijuq

15..Angunahuktiit aarqijuq

16..Ilinniaqtitsiji qukiqtait

17..Qaijutit

18..Angunahuktimik aarqisijutit(b) Translate into Inuktitut:

19. The shaman hurt you.

20. The teacher saw the boy.

21. Your wolf fell.

22. You shot a dog.

23. Your dog hurt a teacher.NB: Inuktitut (Canadian Inuit) belongs to the Eskimo-Aleut family of languages. It is spoken by approx. 35 000 people in the northern part of Canada. The letter r denotes a ‘Parisian’ r (pronounced far back in the mouth), and q stands for a k-like sound made in the same place. A shaman is a priest, sorcerer and healer in some cultures. —Bozhidar Bozhanov

Sadly, registration for NACLO 2009 [the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad, which is the preliminary contest for North Americans hoping to go to the International contest] closed just a few weeks ago, on February 3. That site, however, has a page of links to other practice problems and solutions, so you can still work on these at home. The Babylonian problem is very much like one I do in the first week of the semester in a Math for Liberal Arts class, and many of the others are similar in tone to the problem quoted above and in yesterday’s post.

*Map showing Bulgaria posted by Rei-artur under the GNU-Free documentation license. *

February 24, 2009 at 3:15 pm |

Hello! I just wanted to say thank you for this fascinating post! I stumbled across this blog in a search for Inuktitut. I am not a mathematician, but I am an amateur linguist, and I found this to be a very interesting post. I also appreciate the link to the NACLO and IOL–I had never heard of such a thing before, but now that I know of its existence, I will keep tabs on these competitions. Thanks!

February 24, 2009 at 3:48 pm |

Thanks Grace! I hadn’t heard about these contests either until yesterday — I was really excited when I realized how many practice problems there were. I think there are some real underlying similarities between linguistics and mathematics. (That is probably too simplistic, I realize, but I like the pattern-finding aspect of both.)

February 24, 2009 at 4:21 pm |

Being a word person, I disliked math all through school, but now I am coming to appreciate (and maybe even understand, to a small degree) the beauty and complexity of mathematics beyond just arithmetic and pre-calculus. But you are right about how patterns define both mathematics and linguistics, and really do make them related to one another. I am fairly good at recognizing and understanding patterns, and so I’m excited to try out some of these practice problems on the NACLO site. I printed off several PDFs, to practice on just for the fun of it. 🙂

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