Report on Rounds 1 and 2, 2010

 

I’m happy to report (on behalf of the UKLO committee) that the UK’s first ever Linguistics Olympiad went even better than we expected. It’s all over except the international competition in July, so here’s how the UK event went. As you’ll understand, we’ve been feeling our way this year, so our initial plans had to be adapted quite a bit. You’ll find plenty of details on our website – we’re now proud owners of the domain uklo.org, so you’ll find us at www.uklo.org .

The hardest part of running an olympiad is producing the test material, so we’re heavily dependent on a consortium of English-speaking Linguistics Olympiads (ELCLO) which was set up last year on the back of the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad (NACLO). This has been a real godsend, because some members of the consortium are brilliant at this kind of thing. Maybe we’ll eventually learn to do it ourselves but for the time being we depend on them.

We structured the competition in two rounds. Round 1 was taken in schools, so we supplied the test material and schools scheduled and invigilated the tests. We distinguished two levels: Foundation and Advanced. The two levels shared three questions, with two others unique to each level. Foundation papers were marked by teachers (using answers provided by us), with the option of forwarding papers and marks to us for moderation and recording. But we marked the Advanced papers. On the basis of the Advanced test we selected twelve candidates for Round 2, which was a two-day residential event hosted by Sheffield University’s School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics. The event included a day’s tuition as well as a three-hour test. The standard of these candidates was so high that we decided to select not one but two teams for the international event. The winners’ names are on the UKLO website.

The most encouraging thing for us was the enthusiasm in the schools. Just over 600 pupils took part in round 1, of whom 200 took the Foundation level; and those 200 included some pupils as young as 11! The age-distribution can be seen in a graph on the website.  This means that 600 school children have not only heard of linguistics, but enjoyed doing some analysis of language structure. The website includes some feedback from teachers and we’re hoping eventually to add comments from pupils (but not now – they’re all too busy with exams).

With best wishes,  Dick Hudson 26 April 2010

 

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