History of Linguistic Challenges

The idea of holding academic challenges in linguistics stems from a long tradition of linguistics and mathematics competitions, which began in Moscow in the 1960s. In 1984, Bulgaria began holding similar competitions, and contests were first held in the United States at the University of Oregon starting in 1998. Bulgaria hosted the First International Olympiad in Linguistics in Borovetz in September of 2003, and subsequent International Olympiads have been held in Moscow, Russia in 2004, Leiden, The Netherlands in 2005, and in Tartu, Estonia in 2006. More recently, universities in Estonia, Finland, Netherlands, the United States, and other countries have begun sponsoring such outreach activities aimed at high school students. Participating as individuals and in national teams, students are given challenging sets of language data and language puzzles to solve, with the chance to win prizes and international recognition. Students learn about the richness, diversity and systematicity of language, while exercising natural logic and reasoning skills. No prior knowledge of languages or linguistics is necessary, but the competitions have proven very successful in attracting top students to study in the field of linguistics and computational linguistics.

The North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad picks up on this long tradition, with a focus on computational thinking as it relates to solving linguistics problems. In addition to the traditional linguistics problems, NACLO endeavors to introduce students to computational problem solving as it relates specifically to natural language data.