You can support sending the Canadian Linguistics Olympiad team to Dublin by making a donation.

To make a donation please contact Heather Newell.

Why support OLC-CLO?

1       Overview of OLC-CLO


The Olympiade linguistique canadienne-Canadian Linguistics Olympiad (OLC-CLO) is the new incarnation of Canadian participation in linguistics Olympiad competitions. The anglophone contest has been part of the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad (NACLO:  since 2011. At the 2016 International Linguistics Olympiad (IOL), Canada received permission from the board to have two teams competing in our two official languages. In 2017, the francophone linguistics Olympiad will occur for the first time. We will have a pilot competition in Montréal, as well as at any other site that shows interest.

The goal of OLC-CLO, as with NACLO and all other national linguistics Olympiads, is to expose high school, middle school, and 1st-year CEGEP students to linguistics, computational linguistics, and language technologies before university. It consists of pencil-and-paper puzzles with no prerequisites, requiring only analytical thinking and pattern recognition skills. There is an open round in January each year and an invitational round in March. For the pilot francophone competition, the national team will be chosen on the basis of a single first-round competition, moving to a two-tiered competition in 2018. The winners represent Canada at the International Linguistics Olympiad (IOL). In 2017, the anglophone open round will be held on January 26th at 9 universities, and the francophone open round will be held on the same date at at least 1 high-school and one CEGEP. We expect a combined total of approximately 120 participants this year, and are aiming to increase promotion for next year with the aim of having at least 300 competitors in the national competition each year. (For comparison, the United States, with approximately 9 times our population, has approximately 1600 participants per year.). The invitational round for the anglophone team will be held in March, 2017. Both teams will begin training for the IOL immediately after being chosen. The single competition for the francophone team will give them a longer lead-time to train for the IOL, as these students will be less familiar with the content and format of the linguistics problems involved. The IOL will be held in July, 2017 in Dublin, Ireland.


We are requesting funding for: Travel for the Canadian teams to the IOL in Ireland in July 2017; room and board for the Canadian teams at the IOL; training in the IOL city before the IOL starts; team shirts; faculty supervision and administrative support for trip planning and communicating with parents; and contest booklet preparation.


Intellectual Merit: Currently, linguistics, computational linguistics, and language technologies are taught primarily at the graduate level, and to some extent at the undergraduate level. There has been no systematic study of foundational skills that can be introduced before the university level which could prepare students for university and graduate level courses. The intellectual merit of OLC-CLO is to identify those foundational skills and work them into a curriculum of training exercises and contest problems.


Broader Impact:


  • Enriching high school education: OLC-CLO enriches high school and CEGEP education by introducing these students to linguistics, computational linguistics, and computer science. It introduces the richness and diversity of human languages, draws attention to the growing industry of language technologies that are now used in our daily lives, and shows that beyond math and computer code, computer science is about using computation to solve problems in fascinating subject areas like human language.


  • A resource for educational and career opportunities: Via presentations at high schools and CEGEPS, universities that host OLC-CLO inform students about how they can study linguistics, computational linguistics, and computer science in college, and what kinds of careers are available in these areas.


  • An inventory of educational materials: The OLC-CLO web site links to more than 130 NACLO problems with solutions from past NACLO contests. Twelve to fifteen new problems will be added each year, making the OLC-CLO site a rich resource for linguistics in its own right. The problems are carefully vetted and tested by the program committee in a year-round process of peer review and user testing.


  • Increasing diversity in linguistics, computational linguistics, and computer science: Almost half of NACLO participants, including the Canadian anglophone team, have been female, and a quarter of the Canadian team members traveling to the IOL have been female. In addition, OLC-CLO has no prerequisites and no registration fee, in the hopes of providing easy access to anyone who is interested in the contest regardless of financial means or educational background.


  • Meeting workforce needs: Canada does not meet its own workforce needs in computer science and language related skills for humanitarian aid, business, or national security. OLC-CLO hopes to help fill these workforce needs by engaging high school students and enticing them to pursue careers in these areas.


  • International experience for team members: The eight Canadian team members who travel to the IOL will interact with teams from thirty other countries and enjoy spending time with other students who share their interests and talents.


2       History and current state of the IOL


Linguistics Olympiads originated in the Soviet Union in the 1960s. By the 1980s they were being offered in other countries. The International Linguistics Olympiad was founded in 2003. The countries which competed in the 14th IOL in 2016 were: Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, India, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Kazakhstan, Japan, Latvia, Nepal, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Poland, Korea, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Taiwan, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Internationally, about 15,000 students per year participate in Linguistics Olympiads in their countries, and global participation increases by about 10% per year. (This number includes only those students competing in national Olympiads specifically dedicated to linguistics and computational linguistics; if we include Olympiads that test logic and linguistics together — such as the Slovenian contest in mathematical logic —, this number rises to about 40,000 students.) Currently, 31 national competitions are accredited by the International Linguistics Olympiad, and about 2-3 new national competitions come into existence each year.

While these national contests are in many ways as diverse as the countries that host them, there are strong unifying principles. Each national Olympiad takes an empirical rather than prescriptive approach to the language sciences, and given that linguistics and computational linguistics are rarely encountered prior to university education, each Olympiad strives for a contest in which prior knowledge is not required for success. Contestants are challenged with new phenomena in unfamiliar data, rather than being tested on languages and concepts they already know, and come to learn that languages are something that you can discover through analysis of real language data, rather than something prescribed by teachers and in books.


3       Educational and societal benefits of the IOL


The IOL is the culminating event that motivates bringing linguistics to 40,000 students per year in 31 national contests worldwide. Although less than 150 of these students attend the IOL, it provides a focus for admiration of linguistic talent and a target for setting goals in academic achievement in a fun way outside of their normal high school subjects.

The IOL problems are puzzles with solutions that snap into place and can be reached by a thread of analytic reasoning. (IOL problems can be viewed on the IOL web site, Every problem is carefully reviewed and tested for solvability, but they are not meant to be solved easily. From the IOL jury’s perspective, the ideal high score would be around 85%, with average scores under 40%.

IOL problems exercise skills needed for any academic field. Students are challenged to find an initial hook or clue, formulate an approach, recognize patterns, form hypotheses, support or reject hypotheses based on data, restructure the solution space many times, and finally write a winning explanation of what they have discovered in the process. Also, as emphasized by Slovenia’s national logic contest, it is important to bring rigorous logical and deductive reasoning to all students, even those who are not studying mathematics.

In addition to exercising analytic skills, each IOL problem rewards the solver with a linguistic discovery about sounds, sound change, morphemes, lexical semantics, number systems, poetic meter and rhyme, or another area of linguistic structure.

Students also enjoy the size of the challenge. Students who win NACLO, and by extension OLC-CLO, are profoundly gifted. Many of them are multiple Olympiad winners in other subjects (usually Math, but occasionally Physics and other things like Quiz Bowl). The IOL is one of 12 international science Olympiads. The others being in mathematics, physics, chemistry, informatics, biology, philosophy, astronomy, astronomy and astrophysics, geography, earth sciences, and the junior science Olympiad. The students who participate in these competitions thrive on challenge and on being around other students with similar interests and talents.


4       A typical schedule for the IOL trip


T-minus four days: A coach/chaperone may travel to a hub city in the Canada, if necessary, in order to be sure to be there before any team members arrive, taking into account that there may be weather-related delays. In rare cases, a team member with a very long trip may travel to a hub city to break up the trip and meet a coach/chaperone at a hotel.


T-minus three days: Team members travel from their home cities (or the city of another contest or summer program) to a hub city in the Canada where they meet a coach/chaperone. They all board an international flight.


T-minus two days: Arrival in the IOL airport and ground transportation to the IOL site. The team sleeps and eats. If they are rested enough, on-site training will begin. Other teams with long trips might also arrive on this day.


T-minus one day: The Canadian teams train in a conference room. Most of the other teams arrive in the afternoon and evening. The teams socialize with each other and other teams.


Day 1: The teams train in the morning. The opening ceremony is in the afternoon. We make a trip to a supermarket to buy snacks for Day 2. The evening may be free time or an event or banquet scheduled by the host.


Day 2: Individual contest and team leader meeting: The individual contest is six hours long, usually 9am to 3pm. Lunch is handed to the students at their desks. During the individual contest, the coaches/chaperones from all of the countries have a team leaders’ meeting to discuss future contests, certifications of new countries, and other administrative issues. After the team contest, we may take the Canadian teams out for a treat, followed by free time or an event scheduled by the host.


Day 3: Sightseeing excursion (included in the registration fee). This is arranged by the host and gives the jury time to grade the individual contest. We may make another trip to the supermarket for snacks for Day 4.


Day 4: Team contest: The team contest is three or four hours long, usually 9am to noon or 1pm. Each coach/chaperone proctors a team from another country during the team contest. The afternoon and evening are free unless the host schedules an event such as a party, demo, or talk. Drago Radev (the US coach) traditionally runs an IOL quiz game in the style of Jeopardy.


Day 5: Review of solutions and award ceremony: The solutions to the individual and team problems are reviewed in detail and best solution prizes are awarded. There is a break for lunch, followed by the award ceremony. The host may provide a closing party or banquet.


Day 6: Departure: The host usually provides ground transportation to the airport. Everyone flies back to hub cities in Canada. Most team members and coaches fly to their home cities, unless a team member needs to break up a trip longer than 24 hours or a coach/chaperone needs to stay over to make sure that all of the team members are on their flights, taking into account the possibility of weather-related delays.


Day 7: Anyone remaining in a hub city flies home.


Daily responsibilities of coaches/chaperones: In addition to the meetings and duties mentioned above, the coaches and chaperones are responsible for knowing where the team members are at all times. Coaches/chaperones typically take role call at breakfast and have a bedtime check. They escort the team to all scheduled events and keep track of where they are during social times.


5       Explanation of expenses


5.1      Expenses for Traveling to the IOL


Each team member travels from a home city (or the city of another contest or summer program) to meet a OLC-CLO chaperone in a hub city in the Canada. The chaperone flies from the hub city to the IOL with the team members. OLC-CLO pays for the domestic as well as the international leg of the air travel for each team member and coach.

Travel expenses may include hotels in the following circumstances: to ensure that the chaperone reaches the hub airport before the team members do, leaving time for weather-related cancellations; to break up a trip that is longer than 24 hours for a team member, avoiding mental and physical fatigue, especially if the young person is traveling alone on some legs of the trip; for the team to recover from jet lag and train together in the IOL city, if they arrive before the IOL venue is available; for team members who are traveling between two international contests, such as the International Math Olympiad (IMO) and the IOL, without coming back to Canada.

OLC-CLO does not pay for passports or visas or ground transportation in the team members’ home cities. The IOL host usually pays for ground transportation in the IOL city.


5.2      Room and Board Expenses


The IOL host charges a flat registration fee per team, usually subsidized by donations from government ministries or industrial sponsors. The registration fee covers room and board for six days for four team members and one adult coach/chaperone. The registration fee for 2017 has not yet been announced. We are estimating it to be $3000 per team.

In addition, the OLC-CLO teams might have extra room and board expenses in these circumstances: arriving a day or two early to train together and recover from jet lag; extra costs for single rooms with en suite bathrooms for the coaches/chaperones; food in airports while traveling; snacks for team members to eat during the contest, and treats for after the contest.


5.3      Training


The OLC-CLO coaches provide practice sessions via Skype, Google Docs, and other Internet tools from February or April to July each year (depending on whether the national team is chosen based on one or two rounds of competition). The training in the IOL city is the only time we train in person. The training consists of tutorials on linguistic structure (phonetics, phonology, morphology), common themes in IOL problems (ergativity, number systems other than base 10, systems of poetic meter and rhyme), and contest strategies and teamwork strategies. The training consists of presentations by the coaches, and individual and team practice. We may or may not have to pay for a conference room for training, depending on the venue. We have to pay for room and board on the training day because the extra day is not included in the registration fee.


5.4      Team shirts


Team t-shirts are worn during the opening and closing ceremonies. They are designed by a student on the team each year. They cost $20 to $25 each, depending on the number of colors used and the number of different texts for the teams and the team leaders. A few extra shirts may be purchased for team alternates and for other people who have played a special role in the contest.


5.5      Trip planning expenses


In the past, NACLO has occasionally received financial support for administrative expenses for a staff or graduate assistant to plan the trip to the IOL. OLC-CLO organizers, Heather Newell, Elizabeth Allyn Smith, Lisa Travis, and (former competitor) Daniel Lovsted volunteer to supervise trip planning, but because of a large amount of traveling and research commitments in the summer, we are hard pressed to appear organized and timely to the parents of team members.

We are requesting trip planning expenses this year in the form of salary for an administrative staff person at the Université du Québec à Montréal or at McGill University.

Responsibilities for this administrative staff include: communicating with parents about travel plans, collecting traveler information, advising travelers on visas and other travel issues, interacting with the IOL host to register the team, orchestrating travel from multiple cities, purchasing tickets, collecting legal documents about liability and behavior on the trip, conveying information from the IOL hosts to the team members, ordering t-shirts, and much other paperwork and email related to the trip.


5.6      The OLC-CLO contest booklet


The production of the OLC-CLO contest booklet is not related to travel, but is related to the broader impact of OLC-CLO. Each year OLC-CLO will pay a graduate student in Linguistics or Computational Linguistics to format the contest booklet. This is an extremely painstaking task in that each OLC-CLO problem consists of diagrams, data in special fonts, and various other types of notation. The contest booklet must be perfect for the contest to run smoothly. Many of the problems are shared by other linguistics Olympiads, increasing the educational impact of these problems worldwide. After the contest, the problems and solutions will be posted for public use on the OLC-CLO web site.