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 wrote: 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 www.uklo.org, where a great deal more information is available. 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 http://www.uklo.org/2010/feedback.htm. The International Linguistics Olympiad for 2010 will be in Stockholm from 19 to 23 July. For more information, see http://www.iol.nu/. This year’s UK test questions can be found at http://www.uklo.org/test%20material/index.htm. Our sponsors are listed at http://www.uklo.org/#sponsors. Contact person: Professor Richard Hudson, email: email@example.com, phone 020 83401253.