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					                  The UK Linguistics Olympiad, 2010
                              Press release, 14 June 2010

What would you do if you were stranded in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, with a
tube map labelled in Armenian script? Or if you desperately needed to say ‘The child
keeps eating’ in the Pacific island of Vanuatu? Well, given a few clues you could
probably get by, provided you were able to match the thinking skills of the six
hundred school-children who took part in this year’s Linguistics Olympiad.

This is the first year that the UK has had its own Linguistics Olympiad, but we’re
several decades behind Russia, where the idea started in the 1950s. The Russians
recognised that school-children enjoy grappling with the intricacies of language
structure, and developed tests which stretch the brightest of the bright, often based on
languages which most of us have never heard of. It’s the challenge of the cross-word
puzzle and sudoku rolled into one, with the extra reward of having learned not only a
real bit of a real language, but the skill to do the same for any other language. There’s
also a tinge of excitement in exploring the mind-set of a very different community.

Linguistics Olympiads are spreading. Every year since 2002 there has been an
International Linguistics Olympiad, attracting teams from all over the world. This
year the event in Stockholm will host teams from Australia, Bulgaria, Estonia,
Germany, India, Ireland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Serbia,
Singapore, Slovenia, South Korea, Sweden, USA - and the UK. The UK teams – two
teams of four – are a carefully selected group of school students, aged from 15 to 18,
of whom we can be really proud.

The selection process involved a national competition whose main effect goes far
beyond the selection of the two UK teams. This is the first year of the UK
competition, so we had to develop a structure to suit our own national circumstances.
One oddity is the lack of opportunity at school for children to explore language
structure (unlike other countries, we teach very little grammar), so we saw the
Olympiad as a way to promote this kind of analytical study as a new experience. The
response in schools has been most encouraging; one experienced language teacher
      It’s really the first time that I've seen students actually get so involved in
      working out how languages work. It really is brilliant!!
Even more encouragingly, the competition attracted students as young as eleven, and
as many boys as girls.

We expect even larger numbers in next year’s competition, and look forward to
watching some of the younger competitors improving their play each year. But
meanwhile, our teams will be battling it out in Sweden with the best brains from the
rest of the world.

Notes for editors

      The UKLO website is, where a great deal more information is
      The UK competition was organised in two rounds. Round 1 was taken at
       school, and included a Foundation level for younger pupils as well as the
       Advanced level, which qualified for round 2. Round 2 was a two-day
       residential event hosted by the University of Sheffield, which included some
       tutoring as well as a three-hour test.
      For more feedback from teachers, see
      The International Linguistics Olympiad for 2010 will be in Stockholm from 19
       to 23 July. For more information, see
      This year’s UK test questions can be found at
      Our sponsors are listed at
      Contact person: Professor Richard Hudson, email:, phone
       020 83401253.

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