This year, for the first time, DCS students took part in the All-Ireland Linguistics Olympiad (AILO). This international contest challenges secondary school students to apply logic and reasoning skills to solve complex puzzles in unfamiliar languages. Congratulations are due to four of our fifth years, who scored in the top 100 in the country, and so were selected to take part in the national final in DCU in March. Daragh Fleming was particularly impressive, scoring a whopping 83.5%, and will be leading the charge in Dublin. The DCS quartet – also composed of Eoin Bourke, Stephen O’Sullivan, and Brendan O’Brien, all of 5th year – will be competing to represent Ireland at the International Linguistics Olympiad in Slovenia in July 2012.
The AILO challenges students to apply logic and reasoning skills to solve complex puzzles in unfamiliar languages. The first round included questions on relatively well-known languages such as Dutch and Danish, and more obscure ones, like Yolmo (“a Tibeto-Burman language spoken by around 10,000 people”) and Bardi (an Aboriginal language, with only “a handful of fluent speakers”). Students essentially become code-breakers, and must attempt to use fragments of an unfamiliar language to extrapolate the underlying rules of the language. However, many of the techniques used in this kind of analysis are actually used far more widely than might be imagined – two well-known examples would be Apple’s Siri voice recognition system, and the Google Translate machine translation engine. So computational linguistics, as this field is known, is actually all around us!
Our students found the problems challenging, engrossing, sometimes frustrating, and occasionally addictive – they required, for their solution, a blend of logic, perseverance, and ingenuity which was clearly possessed in abundance by a number of DCS students! Those competing in the AILO final will receive individual tuition – tutors will travel from Trinity College to DCS the week before the final, to advise them on different strategies and approaches they might use. We hope they manage to put them to good use in the final!
Ciarán Ó Conaill