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In the flurry of exam marking and LingFest preparation, the top floor of the Transient is still coming down from the ascent of 64 high school students today. They came from as far away as Camden (Macarthur Anglican), and James Ruse, to as close as Fort Street and St Marys in Sydney proper. Year 9, 10 and 11 students bounded up our stairs, and along our (thankfully refurbished) corridors, to the State Round of OzCLO, the First Australian Computational and Linguistics Olympiad.

Fueled by tim-tams and orange juice, teams of three worked away at problems in Luiseno, Chinantec, Japanese compounds, the horror [1] of getting computers to parse English morphology, and a wonderful problem on Anglicised Irish place-names - how do you get Clashgortmore from the forms in An Chlais Bhán (The White Pit), Bun an Ghoirt Bháin (Base of the White Field), An Currach Mór (The Big Marsh) - and what does it mean?

They seemed excited, charming, enthusiastic problem-solvers, and, with luck they'll be the next generation of linguists (doctor, lawyer, Indian chief?)

The general consensus seems to be that:

  • yes, we must have it next year,
  • yes if we advertise in further in advance we will get more students (64 was FAR more than we'd expected),
  • and
    YES, we must find sponsors [2] to send the national winners overseas to the International Computational and Linguistic Olympiads.

Suggestions anyone?

And now, to mark the results…

Watch this space for the three winners who will go on to the National round on 6th August.

[1] and the horror of marking - one of our Melbourne collaborators spent today whipping off "a quick and dirty Perl script to evaluate the effectiveness of the regular expressions that the students come up with" in answer to the problem.

[2] Above and beyond our current kind & generous sponsors, HCSNet, the Universities of Melbourne and Sydney, Macquarie University, CSIRO, the Australasian Language Technology Association, and the Australian Linguistics Society.


Linguistics Olympics for secondary students?! Incredible. It's enough to almost make me wish I was young enough again to compete! Go maire tu!

Yes we're all saying that we wish we'd had problems like these at school! In fact, while the students were working, their teachers were in our tea-room, putting their heads together on the problems too.. and we await the results.

Can you feel the collective jealousy emanating from Port Hedland? After sighs of longing to be 16 again (and that doesn't happen often) this post prompted a discussion among the Wangka Maya linguists of our own linguistics/grammatical instruction in high school. Most amusing was the recollection from our visiting American linguist, Cassandra Pace, that she was taught grammar around the theme of 'how not to write like a southerner' in her home state of Virginia. Are regional dialects of English considered 'meaty' enough for the olympiad?

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The Transient Building, symbolising the impermanence of language, houses both the Linguistics Department at Sydney University and PARADISEC, a digital archive for endangered Pacific languages and music.


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