Welcome to the University of Alberta (Department of Linguistics) site for

North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad (NACLO)

What is NACLO?
NACLO stands for the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad. Founded in 2006, NACLO is an international linguistics competition and part of the International Science Olympiads. This olympiad is a contest in which high-school students solve linguistic puzzles. In solving the problems, students learn about the diversity and consistency of language, while exercising logic skills. No prior knowledge of linguistics or second languages is necessary. Professionals in linguistics, computational linguistics, and language technologies use dozens of languages to create engaging problems that represent cutting edge issues in their fields. The competition has attracted top students to study and work in those same fields. It is truly an opportunity for young people to experience a taste of natural-language processing in the 21st century. There are two rounds of the competition. The first is an open round, and if you do well on it you will be invited to compete in the national invitational round. The top students from each country qualify for the International Linguistics Olympiad (IOL). In 2016 the US and Canada teams attended the IOL in Mysore, India and received: medals, five honorable mentions, and one team trophy for the highest team average in the individual round.

Who can participate?
NACLO is designed for middle and high school students residing in North America (Grades 6-12).

NACLO Practice and Information Session
If you are interested in attending, please send an email to linguistics@ualberta.ca with NACLO in the subject line.
Location: Assiniboia Hall (ASH) 4-70, University of Alberta
Time: Saturday, 14 January 2017, 10:00am - 12:00pm (Pizza lunch to follow)

When and where is the competition?
For participants in central and northern Alberta, the University of Alberta is hosting the NACLO 2016 competition at its Edmonton campus.

The open competition round is Thursday, 26 January 2017. 10:00 AM at Assiniboia Hall 1-26, please arrive by 9:45 AM.

The national invitational round is Thursday, 9 March 2017. Time and place to be announced.

You will need to register in order to attend the open competition round (although we can handle walk-ins).  Registration is free!

How do I register?

What kinds of linguistic problems should I expect?
You may encounter the following problem types (bear in mind that this list is not exhaustive and you may also get other types of problems). The problems will contain all the information required for solving them and you do not need any specialized linguistic knowledge. There will likely be 6-8 problems for the Open Competition Round.

Translation problems: A problem includes a set of sentences in a foreign language and their translations into English, which may be in order or out of order. Your task is to learn as much as possible from these translations and then translate other given sentences to or from English. Note that the foreign language may have "tricky" structure and grammar. For example, German sentences often end in verbs. Japanese people talk differently about their family and about someone else's family. Some languages do not use articles or any equivalent of "to be." Others treat animate and inanimate objects differently. Be prepared to figure out these unusual features.

Number problems
: A problem includes foreign sentences that describe basic arithmetic facts, such as "six times four is twenty-four," and your task is to figure out how to translate different numbers and expressions. Some languages use bases other than ten; others use different words for the same number depending on the objects being counted, etc.

Writing systems
: Your task is to figure out how a particular writing system works, and then use it to write out a given text, such as an ancient inscription. Some languages are written right to left or top to bottom, others do not use vowels, etc.

Calendar systems
: Your task is to figure out what calendar was used by a particular civilization based on sentences that refer to it.

Formal problems
: In this context, "formal" means that you have to build a logical model of a language phenomenon. For example, a transformation rule may say "to convert an active voice sentence to passive voice, make the object of the former sentence the subject of the latter one, convert the verb to passive by using an appropriate form of the verb "to be" with the past participle of the verb, and add "by" before the word that was the subject of the former sentence." If we apply this rule to "Maya ate an apple," we get "An apple was eaten by Maya."

Phonological problems
: Your task is to figure out the relationship between the sounds of a language and its writing system.

Computational problems
: Your task is to develop a procedure to perform a particular linguistic task in a way that can be carried out by a computer.

Other problems
: Deciphering kinship systems, transcribing spoken dialog, associating sentences with images, and many other types.

What can I do to prepare for the contest?
Practice problems can be found here and other information about past olympiads, including the downloadable 2017 Handbook, can be found on the main NACLO website:  http://nacloweb.org/

Download our local and international flyer (with some sample puzzles) here:

For further information, please contact:
Dr. Benjamin V. Tucker
Department of Linguistics
University of Alberta
Edmonton, AB  T6G 2E7
tel: 780.492.5952
email: linguistics@ualberta.ca

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