School students compete in linguistics ‘Olympics’

Published 06 April 2011

ling-bloggSixty students from secondary schools in Armidale, Casino, Coffs Harbour, Glen Innes, Guyra and Port Macquarie pitted their wits against each other at the University of New England last week when they took part in the Fourth Australian Computational and Linguistics Olympiad (OzCLO).

Working in teams of four, they tackled a series of problems that involved analysing the structure of exotic languages.

OzCLO is held at seven universities around Australia, including UNE. It is designed for students in Years 9-12 who enjoy languages, maths, computers, and natural sciences.

Students who were new to the competition this year attended a training day at UNE on Wednesday 16 March to familiarise themselves with the kinds of problems they’d be facing. “The problems cover all sorts of different abilities – not just languages,” said Jenny Squires, an English teacher from Guyra Central School, when she accompanied Guyra students to the training day. She said her students were “very excited” about coming to UNE for the Linguistics Olympiad. “It’s a good opportunity for them to work with other students at the gifted and talented level,” she explained.

Sixteen teams of four competed in the UNE round of the Olympiad on Wednesday 30 March. Dr Cindy Schneider, the linguistics lecturer who organises the event at UNE, congratulating the students at the end of the competition, said: “The questions were really difficult, and you should all be very proud of yourselves.”

Teams from The Armidale School (TAS) and PLC Armidale tied in first place, with teams from Port Macquarie High School and Glen Innes High School coming second and third respectively. “It was challenging,” said Tom Wyatt (pictured here), a Year 11 student in the winning TAS team. “It involved a lot of inductive reasoning, and wasn’t like either logical maths or creative English. I’m glad I did it.”

The four winning teams went on to compete in the national round of the OzCLO competition later that day. The winners of that round – to be announced soon – will have the opportunity to compete at the International Linguistics Olympiad in Pittsburgh, USA, later this year.

“It’s a great day out for secondary school students,” Dr Schneider said. “Not only do they participate in a competition of international standing, but they also spend a day at a university and get a taste of linguistics (which many school students have never heard of before they come here).”