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LINGUIST List 21.1746

Sat Apr 10 2010

FYI: NACLO: 2010 Competition Information and Winners

Editor for this issue: Elyssa Winzeler <elyssalinguistlist.org>

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        1.    Lori Levin, NACLO: 2010 Competition Information and Winners

Message 1: NACLO: 2010 Competition Information and Winners
Date: 09-Apr-2010
From: Lori Levin <lslcs.cmu.edu>
Subject: NACLO: 2010 Competition Information and Winners
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Say what? High school linguists break the code.

Winners of the fourth annual North American Computational Linguistics
Olympiad just announced.

More than a thousand high school students from across the USA and Canada
recently competed in the fourth annual North American Computational
Linguistics Olympiad. The top students are eligible to represent their
country at the Eighth International Linguistics Olympiad to be held in
Sweden in late July.

The competition included two rounds - the Open round on February 4th and
the Invitational round on March 10th. 1118 students participated in the
Open competition at more than 100 sites, including universities such as
Carnegie Mellon, Princeton, Stanford, and University of Michigan, as well
as many high schools. The students with the top 100 scores in the open
round advanced to the Invitational round, which featured significantly
harder questions.

Top winners include:
1st- Ben Sklaroff, Palo Alto, CA, Palo Alto High School
2nd- Brian Kong, Milton, MA, Milton Academy
3rd- Allen Yuan, Farmington Hills, MI, Detroit Country Day School
4th- Daniel Li, Fairfax, VA, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and
5th- Alan Chang, Piedmont Hills High School
6th- Alexander Iriza, Astoria, NY, The Dalton School
7th- In-Sung Na, Old Tappan, NJ, Northern Valley Regional High School at
Old Tappan
8th- Tian-Yi Damien Jiang, Raleigh, NC, North Carolina School of Science &
Mathematics (Durham)

Students compete in the Computational Linguistics Olympiad by solving
challenging problems using data from a variety of languages and formal
systems. There is no pre-requisite knowledge. Students discover facts about
languages and formal systems in the course of solving the puzzles.
According to first place winner Ben Sklaroff, 'Translating a language
you've never heard of before just by using logic is extremely gratifying.
It's like breaking a code, except languages generally make sense so all the
rules are less arbitrary. Trying to figure out how another person would
express common concepts in their own language, with just a few examples to
work with is a fun challenge.'

This year students solved sixteen problems, including deciphering the rules
for a Pig-Latin-like play language in Minangkabau, the writing systems of
Plains Cree, and the Vietnamese classic Tale of Kieu written in Chinese
characters. Computational problems dealt with text compression and
automatic expansion of abbreviated words. Alan Chang (5th place) says, 'I
really didn't know what I was getting myself into until the open round
actually started. Those three hours didn't feel like a test at all. They
were three hours of very creative and challenging puzzles. As much as I
like math and physics competitions, I found this linguistics competition to
be the most fun. I was very surprised at how many problems I could solve
without any prior experience or knowledge of the subject, and this made me
feel more accomplished every time I solved a problem.'

Dragomir Radev of the University of Michigan is the chair of the program
committee. Among his many responsibilities, Radev gathers ideas from
industry and academic researchers around the world. Radev aims 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 intelligence.

While the linguistics competition is fun, it also requires dedication and
hard work by many people, all of whom are volunteers. Dragomir Radev and
Lori Levin (Carnegie Mellon University) co-chair the organizing committee,
which also includes School Liaison Amy Troyani (Pittsburgh Allderdice High
School), Administrative Chair Mary Jo Bensasi (Carnegie Mellon University)
and Sponsorship Chair James Pustejovsky (Brandeis University), as well as
problem authors and jury members Eugene Fink (Carnegie Mellon University),
David Mortensen (University of Pittsburgh), Patrick Littell (University of
British Columbia), and 2007 international gold medalist Adam Hesterberg,
now studying at Princeton University. Many other college professors, high
school teachers, and college students also volunteer their time.

NACLO is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the North
American Chapter of the Association for Computation Linguistics (NAACL),
Carnegie Mellon University Language Technologies Institute and Gelfand
Center for Community Outreach, University of Michigan, and Brandeis
University, as well as donations from academic departments and individual

Programs similar to NACLO have taken place for over forty years in Eastern
Europe, and the International Linguistics Olympiad is in its eighth year.
More information as well as the problem sets and solutions can be found on
the NACLO 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 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.

Charles Forster, a computer science teacher, has created a new
computational linguistics course at the Dalton School in NY. 'We are
making an effort to cater to the students who are in the department but are
less interested in following our singular 'algorithms' track, as well as to
students who are afraid to take computer science because it has the word
'science' in it but are interested in taking language. Ling is a great
crossover field in HS. For kids who are less inclined to science, they
learn to see a subject that they are interested in through a science lens.
Inversely, it is a great entre for sci geeks to English and language.'

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 language processing. 'High school
students are always enthusiastic about logic puzzles, and the Linguistics
Olympiad provides lots of them,' says Adam Hesterberg, vice-chair of the
jury and winner of the 2007 International Linguistics Olympiad. "It's like
a math contest without the requirement of knowing any math, although
without the rigor of a math contest. Indeed, mathematicians normally do
quite well in the contests." Chang adds, 'Despite all being based on
linguistics, the problems in NACLO are very diverse. Every time I began a
new problem, I had to think carefully about what I could use to solve it.
The techniques I ended up using ranged from applying basic English grammar
to searching for patterns to solving systems of equations.'

Dragomir Radev certainly feels that his hard work pays off. 'Many of the
participants are extremely bright and have broad interests. In addition to
linguistics, they also excel in physics, mathematics, computing, and many
other subjects. A number of linguistics clubs have been created at high
schools thanks to NACLO.'

And, as Eugene Fink puts it, 'most importantly, it is fun for all
participants, both students and organizers.' Allen Yuan (third place)
concurs, 'NACLO has been one of the most enlightening experiences in my
life, combining my love for solving puzzles with a newly sparked interest
in languages. The contest was very well organized this year and I hope
that this event can continue to expand in the future. It brings a great
opportunity to change the way all the students think.'

Contact information:

Dr. Lori Levin, Carnegie Mellon University (lslcs.cmu.edu)
Dr. Dragomir Radev, University of Michigan (radevumich.edu)

Linguistic Field(s): Computational Linguistics

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