From: Thomas Payne <tpayneuoregon.edu>
Subject: Students Shine at Computational Linguistics Olympiad
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High School students from across Canada and the USA recently competed in the
Second Annual North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad. The top
students are eligible to represent their country at the Sixth International
Linguistics Olympiad to be held in Bulgaria, in August of this year.
Top winners include:
- Guy Tabachnick from Hunter College High School in New York City
- Jeffrey Lim from Arlington High School in Arlington, Massachusetts
- Josh Falk from Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- Anand Natarajan from The Harker School in San Jose, California
- Jae-Kyu Lee from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts
- Rebecca Jacobs from Harvard-Westlake School in North Hollywood, California
- Hanzhi Zhu from Shrewsbury High School in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts
- Morris Alper from Henry M. Gunn High School in Palo Alto, California
The competition took place in two rounds -- an Open round on February 5th and an
Invitational round on March 11th. 763 students participated in the Open
competition at fourteen university locations, and 65 high school and home school
centers in the USA and Canada. The top 115 from the open competition
participated in the Invitational round.
Students compete in the Computational Linguistics Olympiad by solving
challenging problems using data from a variety of languages and formal systems
the students have never learned. This year students solved a total of 12
problems, including, for example, interpreting the Babayin writing system, an
alphabet used in the Philippines before the arrival of the Spanish, given only a
few Babayin examples with their English translations. Some of the problems also
dealt with how computational thinking may be applied to some thorny language
processing problems, such as how to correctly determine what language a document
is written in, or accurately read spectrograms -- printouts of the frequency
spectra of speech, popularly known as "voiceprints". Other problems dealt with
Japanese compound nouns, automatic stemming of nouns in English, the use of
finite state automata to parse words in Rotokas, a language spoken on the island
of Bougainville, off the coast of New Guinea, the Mayan calendar system, and
translations of Irish place names into English.
This year, Dr. Dragomir Radev, of the University of Michigan, chaired the
program committee. Among his many responsibilities, Dr. Radev gathers ideas from
industry and academic researchers around the world. His aim is to create
challenging and stimulating problems that address cutting edge issues in the
field of computational linguistics. Though not yet widely known to the general
public, computational linguistics is a rapidly emerging field with applications
in such areas as search engine technologies, machine translation, and artificial
The US program is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, Google, and
Cambridge University press. Similar programs have taken place for over forty
years in Eastern Europe, and the International competition is in its sixth year.
More information as well as the problem sets and solutions can be found on the
organization's website www.naclo.cs.cmu.edu.
"Usually, college students don't even hear about computational linguistics until
they are well along in their undergraduate studies," says Dr. Lori Levin of
Carnegie Mellon University, co-chair of the North American program. "Our hope is
that competitions such as the Computational Linguistics Olympiad will identify
students who have an affinity for linguistics and computational linguistics
before they graduate high school and encourage them to pursue further studies at
the university level." The organization also hopes to see the scientific study
of language incorporated into high school curricula. Universities and
corporations view the program as a way of helping high school students discover
their talents and interests in the areas of language, linguistics and natural
"NACLO bridges the 'techie/fuzzy' divide that characterizes our increasingly
specialized academic culture. Students learn not only about computational
applications to language processing, but also about the beauty and complexity of
the world's languages," says Dr. Thomas Payne, of the University of Oregon,
co-chair of the program. "It is a real cross-cultural experience to try to solve
problems in languages which sometimes follow logic that is very different from
our own familiar ways of thinking."
Dr. Thomas Payne, University of Oregon Department of Linguistics
Dr. Lori Levin, Carnegie Mellon University, Language Technologies Institute
Dr. Dragomir Radev, University of Michigan, School of Information,
Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (radevumich.edu)
Linguistic Field(s): Computational Linguistics
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