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Audio Introduction to UKLO

Puzzle and discover the wonders of the world’s languages.

UKLO (United Kingdom Linguistics Olympiad) is a language-analysis competition for all ages. We create linguistics puzzles and run competitions for school children to encourage a lifelong interest in the world’s languages.

Add variety for your students with an additional subject that teaches them to make decisions carefully. The skills learnt by students are invaluable when it comes to making focused decisions for themselves and avoiding other distractions.

UKLO Skills Hexagon: What skills are learnt?

Please click to see full details of our educational rationale. Check out our example walkthrough that demonstrates these skills

Four Levels of Difficulty

We offer the competition at four levels of difficulty for KS2 – KS5, and provide Gold, Silver and Bronze awards, as well as participation certificates, at each level.

Flexible Progression

Students can start at any level and progress to any level. Click here to register your students. Click here to see the different levels.

The highest scoring students proceed through a couple more rounds of testing and coaching before we present them for the International Linguistics Olympiad (IOL) where they compete against other countries. Click to see our IOL Results.

At a lower level of difficulty, a problem requires an analysis of presented data which allows the competitor to generalise and go beyond the data. But at higher levels, competitors have to not only make these analyses mentally, but also put them into words in an explicit explanation of how the underlying system works.

No fees for schools

The competition is for all ages and entirely free with no costs or additional fees for participants or schools, whether in the national competition, the training camp or the IOL.

What makes a UKLO question?

What’s so special about UKLO questions anyway?

Know nothing and you’re ready to go!

UKLO questions require no preliminary knowledge in language, linguistics or any other subject taught at school.

Beautifully Crafted and Authentic

A tremendous amount of research goes into UKLO questions from field linguists who have travelled first-hand amongst their chosen language’s native speakers.

Wide variety of styles

UKLO questions come in many different styles with over 24 different classifications: from word match-ups, multiple-choices, maps and dissecting words to sound patterns, translating whole sentences and constructing your own. There is something for everyone.

Keeps the spirit of endangered languages alive

Our examinations have used over 165 different languages. Many languages used by UKLO are indigenous with very few speakers.

No language disadvantage

No disadvantage in problem solving ability if English is not the student’s first language.

Popular among boys and girls!

Both boys and girls excel at UKLO questions. We have a roughly 50:50 boy-girl participation ratio.

The more they do, the better they get

UKLO questions train the brain, each UKLO question solved improves student’s cognitive skills. But remember, everything in moderation!

UKLO problem example walkthrough

The main skill you’ll need is the ability to analyse patterns in language data – in short, the skill of language analysis. This is the basis for linguistics, so once you’ve developed your language analysis, you’re a linguist (= one who does linguistics) – ready to study language and even to do good research.

Linguistics

It’s all about looking behind the raw data to find how the language system works. Imagine a strange language in which adding an -s makes some words singular and others plural; how can that be? What’s going on? In case you haven’t noticed, that strange language is English, where an odd old sock smell+s [singular], but many old sock+s [plural] smell even worse. Why? You could start with the difference between nouns and verbs, and write some rules. Then you might notice some exceptions (e.g. smelled or will among the verbs and mice among the nouns), and wonder whether your units should be endings like -s or abstract features like ‘plural’. But the basic work is done: you’ve found the rules, so, as in any good science, you can now make testable predictions: given the noun gug and the verb chortle, you can predict A gug chortle+s but Gug+s chortle.

In short, you have to ‘crack the code’, using the data as a source of clues to what lies behind – just like a detective investigating a crime, a doctor diagnosing an illness, a scientist studying an unfamiliar substance or species, or an explorer finding a way through unknown territory. Welcome to the science of linguistics!

The olympiad

An olympiad problem, unlike the English example above, presents unfamiliar data, and the challenge for you is to discover the system that lies behind the data; so it’s not a test of your MFL skills.

Here’s an example, taken from a language spoken in the north-east of the Sudan, between the Nile and the Red Sea, by about a million people who are mostly nomads. They call the language ti bedawie, but it’s usually called Beja, based on its Arabic name. The language isn’t used in writing, so the first step in analysing it is to develop a way of writing it down; here we’ll skip that step and go straight into the grammar. Here are some Beja words:

BejaEnglish
kaama camel
uukaamthe camel
kaamuuka camel of yours
ikaamuukyour camel
ragada leg
iragadthe leg
taka man
uutakthe man
deefaa door
ideefathe door
meeka donkey
 ??the donkey
lagaa calf
 ??the calf

Your task is to crack the code to the extent of being able to fill the two empty cells. If you look at the data (i.e. the words that are given to you), the answer may leap out at you; if so, lucky you! If not, here’s how to work it out.

1) What’s the missing bit of information? Each empty cell needs the Beja for ‘the X’, where X is actually given in the cell above – meek for ‘donkey’ and laga for ‘calf’; so what’s missing is the way to express the meaning of English the.

2) Almost all the data pairs ‘a X’ (indefinite) with ‘the X’ (definite), but there is an exceptional pair of English translations: a camel of yours is paired with your camel. If English had been just like Beja, these would have been a your camel and the your camel. Why do you think these forms are not allowed in English?

3)If you look through the earlier forms that translate the X, it’s easy to work out that the meaning ‘the’ is expressed by a prefix attached to the noun; but in some cases, this prefix is uu- (uukaam) and in others it is i- (iragad, ikaami).

4) Why does the form of this prefix vary? Is it because of the choice of the noun (like gender in languages like French)? No, this can’t be so because uukaam and ikaamuuk both contain the same noun (meaning ‘camel’) but have different prefixes.What else might be relevant? If you compare the alternatives, they vary in length: uu, i. So maybe it has something to do with the length of the word to which the prefix is added? This is more promising because uu-kaam has just one syllable after the prefix whereas iragad and ikaamuuk have two; and you’ll notice that in this case the length of the syllables concerned doesn’t matter. At least all the data are consistent with the following rule: Add uu- before one syllable and i- before more than one syllable.

5) You can now fill the empty cells: uumeek and ilaga. Job done!