UWM hosts major computational linguistics contest Feb. 2

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee will host local high-school and middle-school students for the 2012 North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad (NACLO) open competition on Thursday, Feb. 2.

The competition runs from 9 a.m. to noon; doors open at 8:30. Because of the strong turnout this year, the contest will be held simultaneously in two locations: the Kohl’s Art Generation Studio at the Milwaukee Art Museum, 700 N. Art Museum Dr., and at UWM in Room E-250 of the Engineering and Mathematical Sciences building, 3200 N. Cramer St.

Three UWM academic departments are collaborating in this event: the Department of Linguistics, the Department of Computer Science, and the Department of Mathematical Sciences,  in conjunction with the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Feb. 2, analytically minded high-school and middle-school students will gather at locations across the United States and Canada to compete for a spot at the invitational the following month and, eventually, an invitation to the International Linguistics Olympiad in Europe.

“Most people don’t realize how many academic and high-demand career paths are available for students who are interested in solving language-related puzzles,” says Adjunct Assistant Professor of Linguistics Joyce Tang Boyland.

Competitors will have three hours to solve approximately four linguistic puzzles that challenge them to think logically and computationally to decipher texts in rare languages.

This year, UWM has attracted more participants than any of the other 140 sites in North America, except for Carnegie Mellon University, where the contest was founded. There is strong participation both from suburban and urban schools, as well as from homeschoolers.

Tang Boyland  is organizing the UWM site along with Assistant Professor of Linguistics Hanyong Park, Linguistics Department alumni Jonas Wittke and Suzanne Loosen, Associate Professor of Computer Science John Tang Boyland and Gabriella Pinter, an associate professor of Mathematical Sciences.

“This event is a way for the public to experience the value that UWM adds to the Milwaukee community,” says Tang Boyland.

Although the competition is designed for high-school students, middle-school students and younger are also welcome to participate. A special mention will be awarded to the highest-scoring middle-school student.

No prior knowledge or experience is necessary in linguistics, computer science, programming or foreign languages. There is no participation fee.

More information about the contest can be found at http://www.naclo.cs.cmu.edu. Students can also find practice problems on this site. More information about the UW-Milwaukee site can be found at http://hslinguistsmke.wordpress.org.

NACLO anticipates it will finish scoring the tests three weeks after the open. The top scorers in the country will be eligible to participate in the invitational on Tuesday, March 13, when the winners will return to their original sites to take the second exam.

The competition’s sponsors have included the U.S. National Science Foundation, investment firm D.E. Shaw & Co., medical informatics leader M*Modal, a variety of universities and scholarly societies, and Google.



Joyce Tang Boyland

Hanyong Park,

Jonas Wittke

Gabriella Pinter