Paly senior to compete in International Linguistics Olympiad

Aaron Chum, Author

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A Palo Alto High School senior will represent the United States in the 11th International Linguistics Olympiad in July in Manchester, England.

Senior Jeffrey Ling will be part of an eight-member team that will look to add on to the United States’ 29 medals, six trophies and three first-place team cups.

The International Linguistics Olympiad, held annually since 2003, asks competitors to solve problems in fields such as theoretical, mathematical and applied linguistics. Problems concern translation, number systems, calendar systems, phonology and computation. According to the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad, “students learn about the diversity and consistency of language, while exercising logic skills.”

To qualify for the International Linguistics Olympiad, Ling first competed in the NACLO open and invitational rounds.

“The NACLO open round was on January 31 and the invitational round was on March 19,” Ling said. “I qualified for the invitational round as top 100 in the open round, and I qualified for the ILO team as top eight in the invitational round.”

Languages in the 2013 NACLO invitational round included Beja (an unwritten language of several nomadic tribes in northeastern Sudan), Indonesian, Swahili, Quechua (a language spoken mostly by the indigenous peoples of the Andes) and Polish Sign Language. However, Ling says that prior knowledge of linguistics or multiple languages is not required.

“I didn’t do any formal preparation for NACLO, but I’ve taken it in the last two years,” Ling said. “Since NACLO doesn’t require any prior knowledge, I relied on my previous experience and puzzle-solving logic skills to do well.”

Ling first learned about the NACLO in 10th grade when it was advertised by math club and has remained involved in the linguistics competition since.

“I found the linguistics and problems in it fascinating, so I’ve done NACLO every year since,” Ling said.

Ling is looking forward to competing in the international event.

“I’m pretty excited to be a part of the U.S. ILO team, as I’ve never gone to an international competition before,” Ling said. “I don’t really know what to expect from the ILO itself as of now, but it will certainly be fun to travel and meet other language enthusiasts from around the world. I’ll need to put in some work and practice to get ready for the competition too.”

More information can be found on the International Linguistics Olympiad’s official site.