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The north american compuational linguistics olympiad l.jpg

The North American Compuational Linguistics Olympiad

Haven’t you always wanted to see Bulgaria?

What naclo is l.jpg

  • A challenge where high school students compete on the field of linguistic, computational, and analytic battle.

    • Based around using creativity and logic to solve puzzles that involve human languages and language technologies.

    • No prior knowledge of linguistics or computer science is required--all you need is a brain.

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Linguistic Olympiads

  • This family of contests began in the Soviet Union during the mid-1960s.

  • Several years ago, and international competition was started.

  • Last year was the first year a US team participated.

  • Despite the newness of this competition in North America, our team won! The top score was from a member of the US team.

  • Let’s continue to show the world that we are smarter than our television programming and test scores would seem to indicate!

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NACLO Pittsburgh

  • First Round:

    • February 5, at CMU [location]

    • Registration at 9:00, contest starts at 10:00

    • 3 hours of challenging puzzles.

  • Second Round

    • March 11, at CMU [location]

    • Harder puzzles, higher stakes

    • The best contestants in the second round (nationwide) will be selected for the American National Team

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  • The International Linguistic Olympiad will be held in Bulgaria in late July.

  • Pending budgetary approval, the basic travel expenses of the US Team will be paid by NACLO.

  • The team will also attend a summer training camp, either in the US or in Bulgaria.

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What Linguistics Is

Or, how, if somebody asks me how many languages I speak one more time, I will strangle her.

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What is Linguistics?

  • Linguistics is, ostensibly (SAT word!) “the scientific study of language.”

  • I would argue that this is technically untrue, but it is a useful myth to perpetuate because it makes us look less silly when we ask the National Science Foundation for grant money.

  • What, then, is linguistics?

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Linguists like languages, but they love Language

  • Language is fully of what I call “mundane mysteries.”

  • We use language every day, none of us really knows for certain what we are doing when we use it.

  • Language use seems effortless for us, but it involves knowing and following a broad range of rules and conventions that govern...

    • how to form words

    • how to form sentences

    • What kinds of words, sentences, and pronunciations can be used in a particular context or situation.

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Rules you know you know

  • We know some rules of language:

    • Don’t end sentences with prepositions (unless you have nothing else to end them with).

    • Only use a double negative if you mean a positive.

    • What else?

  • Most linguists are not particularly interested in these rules.

    • They will tell you that some of them were just made up by bitter English teachers in order to make the writing of essays less pleasurable.

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Rules you know but don’t know you know

  • There are other rules, often more intricate, that we all know as speakers of a language, but of which we are not usually aware.

    • Example: you cannot put reflexive pronouns (himself, herself, itself, yourself, etc.) the same places where you can put normal pronouns (him, her, it you).

    • Where do you put each kind?

    • Not so easy, is it? You follow a rule 99% of the time, without even being able to say what it is!

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Linguistics is about saying it.

  • Linguists try to make precise and falsifiable statements about what the unspoken rules of Language are, in many areas:

    • The patterns in language sounds.

    • The structure of words.

    • The structure of sentences.

    • The structure of discourse.

    • The social use of language.

    • The ways and reasons languages change.

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Expletive Infixation

It's not just for swearing anymore.

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Expletive Infixation

  • Expletive infixation is a fancy name for what you do when you put an expletive (a swearword, curse, etc.) inside of another word.

  • You know these expletives, and it’s a good thing, because we can’t say most of them in a high school.

  • We’ll use bloomin’ in order to downplay our edgy, hipster image.

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  • Here are some examples of expletive infixation:

    • Pennsyl-bloomin’-vania

    • Minne-bloomin’-sota

    • exo-bloomin’-skeleton

    • impe-bloomin’-cunious

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Where does the expletive go?

  • California

  • Massachusetts

  • Alabama

  • Indiana

  • Based on these examples, where in the word do you put the expletive?

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Where does the expletive go?

  • Cà.li.fór.nia

  • Mà.ssa.chú.setts

  • À.la.bá.ma

  • Ìn.di.á.na

  • Based on these examples, where in the word do you put the expletive?

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But what about these?

  • Vermont

  • Nevada

  • biology

  • cohesion

  • macguyverism

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But what about these?

  • Ver.mónt

  • Ne.vá.da

  • bi.ó

  • co.hé.sion

  • mac.gúy.ver.ism

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Ah, but there are problems

  • Where do expletive infixes go in the following words?

    • Cárrick

    • Mífflin

    • Téxas

  • And what about these?

    • Gréenfield

    • Hómewood

  • What's the problem here?

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The story so far

  • We try to place the expletive immediately before a stressed syllable (but not necessarily immediately before a stressed vowel).

  • We try to place the expletive after the first syllable, though not always immediately after the first syllable.

  • Sometimes we cannot satisfy both of these constraints.

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The story so far

  • When we can't do both, we have to decide where to compromise.

    • In what cases do we put the expletive at the very beginning of a word?

    • In what cases do we put the expletive before an unstressed syllable?

  • In compound words–words made out of two smaller words—we seem to prefer putting the word at the break between smaller words.

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A final puzzle

  • Consider two final examples

    • ìrrespónsible

    • ùnrelíable

  • Same number of syllables

  • Same stress pattern

    • s  = strong (stressed)‏

    • w = weak (unstressed)‏

    • swsww

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A final puzzle

  • Most speakers of English prefer:

    • irre-bloomin'-sponsible

    • un-bloomin'-reliable

  • Why the difference?

    • sw-EXPL-sww (what we expected)‏

    • s-EXPL-wsww (not what we expected)‏

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A final puzzle

  • “Ah, ha!” you say, “unreliable has a prefix, and the expletive goes between the prefix and the rest of the word.

  • Problem: irresponsible also has a prefix.

    • responsible irresponsible

    • regular irregular

    • redeemable irredeemable

  • However, it turns out than un- and ir- are different kinds of prefixes.

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Does change








A final puzzle

  • Doesn't change.

    • unbelievable

    • unmentionable

    • undecided

    • unnerving

    • unrealistic

    • unleavened

    • ungrateful

Compare unnerving and innocuous: is the n the same in both words, or is it longer in one? Which one?

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Expletive infixation and our knowledge of language

  • At first glance, expletive infixation looks quite inane, and not terribly complicated.

  • However, on closer examination, we find that...

    • We have clear intuitions about how to do it.

    • These intuitions are based on a rather clear set of rules, of which we are not consciously aware.

    • These rules intersect with others in intricate ways.

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Because Swahili is for Learners

A puzzle to get started.

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‘giant (large man)’

‘kid (young goat)’


‘big river’


Match the Words

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  • Look for recurring elements:

    • recurring sequences of sounds (“letters”)

    • recurring aspects of meaning

  • Group like with like.

  • Assume the principle of least coincidence:

    • When choosing between hypotheses (about how to divide words up, about what parts mean, etc.) choose the hypothesis that makes the fewest patterns look accidental.

    • The more patterns you are able to “factor out” of the data by applying your hypothesis, the more likely it is to be on the right track.

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Baby Steppes

  • You will see some sentences from Orkhono-Yeniseyan translated into English.

  • Orkhono-Yeniseyan was a language anciently spoken in parts of Central Asia.

  • Scrolls containing the language were found in Mongolia near the confluence of the Orkhon and Yenisey rivers (with which, I assume, we are all familiar), thus the name.

  • You will figure out the meanings of the words, and a little bit of the grammar, so that you can translate two sentences from OY to English and from English to OY (becuause you are just that devious).

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To the left are the sentences to get you started. Here are the sentences you should translate:

Qaghan baliqigh alti

Men barqigh buzdim.

The son conquered your city.

The king betrayed the vassal.

Ya’ll’s vassal destroyed my house.

  • Oghuling baliqigh alti.‘Ya’ll’s son conquered the city.’

  • Baz oghuligh yangilti. ‘The vassal betrayed the son.’

  • Siz baliqimizin buzdingiz. ‘Y’all destroyed our city.’

  • Qaghanimiz oghulingin yangilti.‘Our king betrayed y’all’s son.’

  • Oghulim barqingin buzdi‘My son destroyed y’all’s house.’

  • Siz qaghanigh yangiltingiz.‘Y’all betrayed the king.’

  • Biz baliqigh altimiz.‘We conquered the city.’

  • Bazim qaghanimizin yangilti. ‘My vassal betrayed our king.’

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Conclusion the sentences you should translate:

  • If you thought that was fun (and to be perfectly frank, it was), please join us on February 5th, 2008, for the second annual NACLO-Pittsburgh.

  • For more information on NACLO, visit our new website at: