International Linguistics Olympiad
The International Linguistics Olympiad (IOL) is one of the International Science Olympiads for secondary school students. Its abbreviation IOL is deliberately chosen not to correspond to the name of the organization in any particular language, and member organizations are free to choose for themselves how to designate the competition in their own language. This olympiad furthers the fields of mathematical, theoretical, and descriptive linguistics.
The setup differs from most of the other Science Olympiads, in that the olympiad contains both individual and team contests. The individual contest consists of 5 problems, covering the main fields of theoretical, mathematical and applied linguistics – phonetics, morphology, semantics, syntax, sociolinguistics, etc. – which must be solved in six hours.
The team contest has consisted of one extremely difficult and time-consuming problem since the 2nd IOL. Teams, which generally consist of four students, are given three to four hours to solve this problem.
Like nearly all International Science Olympiads, its problems are translated and completed in several languages and as such must be written free of any native language constraints. However, unlike other olympiads, the translations are provided by the multilingual Problem Committee, a body of experts independent of the delegates' team leaders. Because competitors could gain some advantage if they are familiar with one or more of the language groups which are the subject of some of the assignments, problems are increasingly based on some of the world's lesser known languages. Fortunately, with more than 6,000 languages spoken world-wide (not including so-called dead languages) there are plenty to choose from. The committee has a policy of not using artificial[contradictory] or fictional languages for its problems. The presence of an independent Problem Committee and Jury means that team leaders do not have to be experts in the field (though most are): they can (and often do) work closely with their teams providing last-minute coaching throughout the week of the competition.
In any case, the most helpful ability is analytic and deductive thinking, as all solutions must include clear reasoning and justification.
The first linguistic olympiad for secondary school students was organised in 1965 in Moscow, Russia, on the initiative of Alfred Zhurinsky (1938–1991), eventually a prominent philologist but then only a fifth-year student of linguistics, in an organizing committee chaired by the mathematician Vladimir Andreevich Uspensky and we with the participation of the linguists Alexander Kibrik, Anna Polivanova and Andrey Zaliznyak. It was held regularly until 1982 and resumed again in 1988. Similar olympiads were founded in Bulgaria (1984), Oregon, USA (1988) and Saint Petersburg, Russia (1995). After the foundation of the Bulgarian olympiad, teams of winners of the Moscow Linguistic Olympiad successfully competed in Bulgaria and vice versa, demonstrating good potential for international cooperation in the field.
Venues, year by year
The first edition of IOL then was realized from September 6 to 12, 2003, in the mountain resort Borovetz, Bulgaria, chaired by Alexander Kibrik from Moscow State University (MSU) and with the participation of six countries: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Netherlands and Russia. The first International Jury was composed of Ivan Derzhanski (president) (Institute for Mathematics and Informatics of Bulgarian Academy of Sciences), Alexander Berdichevsky (MSU), Boris Iomdin (Russian Language Institute) and Elena Muravenko (Department for Russian Language, Russian State University for the Humanities). The five problems at the individual contest concerned Jacob Linzbach's "Transcendental algebra" writing system, Egyptian Arabic (Afroasiatic), Basque (Isolate), Adyghe (Northwest Caucasian), and French (Indo-European). The team contest consisted of three problems, on Tocharian (Indo-European), the use of subscripts as indices, and on performative verbs.
IOL 2 was held from August 2 to 6, 2004, in the Russian State University for the Humanities (RSUH), in Moscow, Russia. Seven countries participated, with the first participation of Poland and Serbia and Montenegro. The five problems at the individual contest were in Kayapo, Latin, English, Lakhota and Chuvash. The team problem was in Armenian.
IOL 3 was held from August 8 to 12, 2005, in Leiden, Netherlands, with the participation of 13 teams from 9 countries, Finland and Romania for their first time. The five problems at the individual contest were in Tzotzil, Lango, Mansi, Yoruba and Lithuanian. The team problem was in Figuig.
IOL 4 was held from August 1 to 6, 2006, at the University of Tartu, Tartu, Estonia. Chaired by Renate Pajusalu, it received also 13 teams from 9 countries, with Lithuania sending a team for the first time. The five problems at the individual contest were in Lakhota, Catalan, Khmer, Udihe and Ngoni. The team problem was in American Sign Language.
IOL 5 was held from July 31 to August 4, 2007, at the Hotel Gelios, Saint Petersburg, Russia. Chaired by Stanislav Gurevich, it received 15 teams from 9 countries; Spain, Sweden and USA came for the first time. In that year, it was decided that each country can send one or two teams, consisting of four students each, with the first team's costs fully covered by the host country. Also, the host country could send a third team. The five problems at the individual contest were in Braille, Movima (Isolate), Georgian (Kartvelian), Ndom (Trans-New Guinea), and correspondences between Turkish and Tatar (Turkic). The team problem was in Hawaiian (Polynesian) and focused on genealogical terms.
IOL 6 was held from August 4 to 9, 2008, at the Sunny Beach Resort, Sunny Beach, Bulgaria. Chaired by Iliana Raeva, it gathered 16 teams from 11 countries, including the first time for Germany, Slovenia and South Korea. The Problem Committee was chaired by Ivan Derzhanski. The five individual problems were in Micmac (Algonquian), Old Norse (North Germanic) poetry (specifically, drottkvætt), Drehu and Cemuhî correspondences (Oceanic), Copainalá Zoque (Mixe-Zoquean), and Inuktitut (Eskimo-Aleut). The team problem was about correspondences between Mandarin and Cantonese (Sinitic) using the fanqie system.
IOL 7 was held from July 26 to 31, 2009, at the University of Wrocław, Wrocław, Poland. Chaired by Michał Śliwiński, it received 23 teams from 17 countries, with Australia, United Kingdom, India and Ireland sending teams for the first time. The Problem Committee was chaired by Todor Tchervenkov (University of Lyon, France). The subject matter of the five individual problems covered: numerals in the Sulka language (Isolate), Maninka and Bamana (Mande) languages in the N'Ko and Latin scripts, traditional Burmese (Sino-Tibetan) names and their relation with dates of birth, stress position in Old Indic (Indo-Aryan) and the relation between grammar and morphology in classical Nahuatl (Uto-Aztecan). The team problem was in Vietnamese (Austroasiatic).
IOL 8 was held from July 19 to 24, 2010, at Östra Real Hostel, Stockholm, Sweden. Chaired by Hedvig Skigård, it received 26 teams from 18 countries, including first time for Norway and Singapore. The Problem Committee was chaired by Alexander Piperski. The individual contest consisted of five problems covering: relations between various verb forms in Budukh (Northeast Caucasian), the Drehu (Oceanic) counting system, Blissymbolics, mRNA coding, and the connection between Sursilvan and Engadine dialects in Romansh (Western Romance). The team problem involved translating extracts from a monolingual Mongolian (Mongolic) dictionary.
IOL 9 was held from July 25 to 30, 2011, at the Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, USA. Chaired by Lori Levin, it received 27 teams from 19 countries, including Brazil, Canada, United Arab Emirates and Vietnam for the first time. The Problem Committee was chaired by Adam Hesterberg. The problems of the individual contest required reasoning about Faroese (Germanic) orthography, Menominee (Algic) morphology, Vai (Mande) syntax, Nahuatl (Uto-Aztecan) semantics and the structure of the barcode language EAN-13. The team contest involved the rules and structure of Sanskrit (Indo-Aryan) poetry.
IOL 10 was held from July 29 to August 4, 2012, at the University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia. Chaired by Mirko Vaupotic, it received 34 teams from 26 countries, first time for China, Greece, Hungary, Israel and Japan. The Problem Committee was chaired by Ivan Derzhanski. The five problems at the individual contest were in Dyirbal (Pama-Nyungan) syntax, Umbu-Ungu (Trans-New Guinea) numbers, Basque (Isolate) pronouns, Teop (Austronesian) syntax, and Rotuman (Austronesian) semantics. The team problem involved recognizing country names in Lao language (Tai-Kadai).
IOL 11 was held from July 22 to 26, 2013, at the Manchester Grammar School, Manchester, UK. Chaired by Neil Sheldon, it received 35 teams from 26 countries, including first time teams from Isle of Man, Taiwan and Turkey. The Problem Committee was chaired by Stanislav Gurevich. The five problems at the individual contest were about Yidiny (Pama-Nyungan) morphology, Tundra Yukaghir (Yukhagir) semantics, Pirahã (Mura) phonology, Muna (Austronesian) syntax, and telepathy based on English. The team problem involved translating Martin Seymour-Smith's list of the 100 most influential books from Georgian (Kartvelian) written in the 9th century Nuskhuri script.
IOL 12 was held from July 21 to 25, 2014, at the Beijing Language and Culture University, Beijing, China. Chaired by Jiang Yuqin, it received 39 teams from 28 countries, with Pakistan and Ukraine sending teams for the first time. The Problem Committee was chaired by Jae Kyu Lee. The five problems at the individual contest were about Benabena (Trans-New Guinea) morphology, Kiowa (Tanoan) morphophonology, Tangut (Tibeto-Burman) kinship, Engenni (Niger-Congo) syntax, and Gbaya (Niger-Congo). The team problem involved matching the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to their translations in Armenian (Indo-European).
IOL 13 was held from July 20 to 24, 2015, at the American University in Bulgaria, Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. Chaired by Aleksandar Velinov, it received 43 teams from 29 countries, with Bangladesh, France and Kazakhstan sending teams for the first time. The Problem Committee was chaired by Bozhidar Bozhanov. The five problems at the individual contest were about Nahuatl (Uto-Aztecan) and Arammba (South-Central Papuan) numbers, morphology in the Besleney dialect of Kabardian (Abkhaz-Adyghe), Soundex, Wambaya (West Barkly) syntax and the rules of Somali (Afroasiatic) poetry. The team problem involved using extracts from a monolingual Northern Sotho (Bantu) dictionary to build a grammar and lexicon of the language.
IOL 14 was held from July 25 to 29, 2016, at the Infosys Development Center in Mysore, India. Chaired by Dr. Monojit Choudhury and Dr. Girish Nath Jha, it received 44 teams from 31 countries, with Nepal and Sri Lanka sending teams for the first time. The Problem Committee was chaired by Boris Iomdin. The five problems at the individual contest were about spatial deictics in Aralle-Tabulahan (Austronesian), Luwian hieroglyphic script (Indo-European), Kunuz Nubian (Eastern Sudanic) morphosyntax, Iatmül (Sepik) semantics and Jaqaru (Aymaran) morphology. The team problem involved matching over 100 utterances in Taa (Tuu) to their IPA transcriptions.
IOL 15 was held from July 31 to August 4, 2017, at Dublin City University in Dublin, Ireland. Chaired by Dr. Cara Greene, it received 43 teams from 27 countries, with Canada sending a Francophone team for the first time. The Problem Committee was chaired by Hugh Dobbs. The five problems at the individual content were about Berom (Plateau) numbers, Abui (Timor-Alor-Pantar) possessives and semantics, Kimbundu (Bantu) morphosyntax, Jru' (Austroasiatic) written in the Khom script and Madak (Meso-Melanesian) morphophonology. The team problem involved establishing correspondences between 87 emojis and their descriptions in Indonesian (Austronesian).
IOL 16 was held from July 26 to 30, 2018, at the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague, Czech Republic. Chaired by Vojtěch Diatka, it received 49 teams from 29 countries, with Malaysia and Denmark competing for the first time. The Problem Committee was chaired by Maria Rubinstein. The five problems at the individual contest concerned Creek (Muskogean) stress, Hakhun (Sal) morphosyntax, Terêna (Arawakan) phonology, counting in Mountain Arapesh (Torricelli) and kinship in Akan (Atlantic-Congo). The team problem examined phonological correspondences among the three Jê languages Mẽbêngôkre, Xavante and Krĩkatí.
IOL 17 was held from July 29 to August 2, 2019 at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Yongin, South Korea. Chaired by Minkyu Kim and Yoojung Chae, it received 53 teams from 35 countries, with Nepal, Hong Kong, Uzbekistan and Colombia competing for the first time. The Problem Committee was chaired by Tae Hun Lee. The five problems at the individual contest concerned Yonggom (Ok) morphosyntax, Yurok (Algic) colours, Middle Persian (Iranian) written in Book Pahlavi script, West Tarangan (Aru) reduplication and Nooni (Beboid) morphosyntax and day names. The team problem involved the symbol notation used by judges in rhythmic gymnastics.
IOL 18 was to take place from July 20 to 24, 2020, in Ventspils, Latvia. Due to the widespread COVID-19 pandemic, the International Board of the IOL decided to postpone the event to July 19 to 23, 2021, on which it was successfully held. The competition was organised remotely in the respective countries of each team, marking the first time that the mode of competition was adopted at the IOL.  Chaired by Vladimir Litvinsky, it received 54 teams from 34 countries, with Azerbaijan competing for the first time. The Problem Committee was chaired by Aleksejs Peguševs. The five problems at the individual contest concerned Ekari (Paniai Lakes) numerals, Zuni (Isolate) semantics with special focus on food, Kilivila (Oceanic) morphosyntax, Agbirigba (a cant language) and its derivation from the Ogbakiri dialect of Ikwerre (Atlantic-Congo), and Rikbaktsa (Macro-Jê) morphology. The team problem involved matching sentences in passages written in Garifuna (Arawakan) with its translations, as well as acknowledging the difference between the language's male and female registers and establishing their relationships with Kari'ña (Cariban) and Lokono (Arawakan), respectively.
The different editions of IOL can be summarized on the following table:
|1||2003||Borovets||Bulgaria||September 6||September 12||6||33||Link||Link|
|2||2004||Moscow||Russia||July 31||August 2||7||43||Link||Link|
|3||2005||Leiden||Netherlands||August 8||August 12||9||50||Link||Link|
|4||2006||Tartu||Estonia||August 1||August 6||9||51||Link||Link|
|5||2007||Saint Petersburg||Russia||July 31||August 4||9||61||Link||Link|
|6||2008||Slantchev Bryag||Bulgaria||August 4||August 9||11||63||Link Archived March 25, 2012, at the Wayback Machine||Link|
|7||2009||Wrocław||Poland||July 26||July 31||17||86||Link||Link|
|8||2010||Stockholm||Sweden||July 19||July 24||18||99||Link||Link|
|9||2011||Pittsburgh||United States||July 24||July 30||19||102||Link Archived June 30, 2013, at the Wayback Machine||Link|
|10||2012||Ljubljana||Slovenia||July 29||August 4||26||131||Link Archived June 30, 2013, at the Wayback Machine||Link|
|11||2013||Manchester||United Kingdom||July 22||July 26||26||138||Link||Link|
|12||2014||Beijing||China||July 21||July 25||28||152||Link||Link|
|13||2015||Blagoevgrad||Bulgaria||July 20||July 24||29||166||Link Archived May 19, 2017, at the Wayback Machine||Link|
|14||2016||Mysore||India||July 25||July 29||31||167||Link||Link|
|15||2017||Dublin||Ireland||July 31||August 4||29||180||Link||Link|
|16||2018||Prague||Czech Republic||July 25||July 31||29||192||Link||Link|
|17||2019||Yongin||South Korea||July 29||August 2||35||209||Link||Link|
|–||2020||Ventspils||Latvia||Cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic|
|18||2021||Ventspils||Latvia1||July 19||July 23||34||216||Link|
|19||2022||Castletown||Isle of Man||July 25||July 29||Link|
- a The competition was held remotely.
|2003||Borovets, Bulgaria||Alexandra Petrova
||Polina Oskolskaya |
|2004||Moscow, Russia||Ivan Dobrev
||Alexandra Zabelina |
|2005||Leiden, Netherlands||Ivan Dobrev
||Nikita Medyankin |
|2006||Tartu, Estonia||Maria Kholodilova
||Yuliya Taran |
|2007||Saint Petersburg, Russia||Adam Hesterberg
||Anna Shlomina |
|2008||Slanchev Bryag, Bulgaria||Alexander Daskalov
||Guy Tabachnick |
|2009||Wrocław, Poland||Diana Sofronieva
||Deyana Kamburova |
||Mirjam Parve |
||Min Kyu Kim |
||Pedro Neves Lopes |
||Nilai Sarda |
||Milo Andrea Mazurkiewicz[note 1]
||Anindya Sharma |
||Kevin M Li
Ying Ming Poh
|Bálint Ugrin |
|Tsuyoshi Kobayashi |
|Ekaterina Voloshinova |
|2018||Prague, Czech Republic
|David Avellan-Hultman |
|2019||Yongin, Republic of Korea
João Henrique Fontes
|Tatiana Romanova |
Tam Lok Hang
|Lili Probojcsevity |
|Nbr||Year||Location||Team Gold||Team Silver||Team Bronze||Winning team in individual competition|
|3||2005||Leiden, The Netherlands||Netherlands||Russia-Moscow||Russia-StPetersburg||Bulgaria-1|
|6||2008||Slantchev Bryag, Bulgaria||USA-2
|16||2018||Prague, Czech Republic||USA-Blue||USA-Red
|17||2019||Yongin, Republic of Korea||Slovenia||China KUN
|18||2021||Ventspils, Latvia||Ukraine і||USA Red||India Saffron
|Hong Kong EAT|
All-time medal table
Only countries with at least 1 gold medal are listed. The data is accurate up to 2021.
(after 2016, Canada Anglophone)
- Newspaper article in The Age "It may be semantics, but linguistics can be a team event". July 27, 2012.
- International Science Olympiad
- North American Computational Linguistics Open competition
- United Kingdom Linguistics Olympiad
- Panini Linguistics Olympiad
- Bulgarian National Olympiad in Linguistics
- Australian Computational and Linguistics Olympiad
- Asia Pacific Linguistics Olympiad
- The medalist was transgender and is credited under deadname on the IOL website.
- "International Linguistics Olympiad FAQ". www.ioling.org. Retrieved November 10, 2019.
- "International history". United Kingdom Linguistics Olympiad. June 3, 2011. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
- "First International Olympiad in Linguistics (2003)". Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, Moscow State University. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
- "History of Linguistic Challenges". NACLO. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
- "IOL 2003". International Linguistics Olympiad official website. Archived from the original on June 30, 2013. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
- "Second International Linguistic Olympiad (2004)". Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, Moscow State University. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
- "Fourth International Linguistics Olympiad for Secondary School Students". Archived from the original on July 20, 2011. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
- "The Fifth International Linguistics Olympiad". Archived from the original on October 5, 2011. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
- "6th International Linguistics Olympiad". Archived from the original on March 25, 2012. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
- "7th International Olympiad in Linguistics". Retrieved September 8, 2012.
- "IOL10". Retrieved September 8, 2012.
- "IOL 2011: Venue". Archived from the original on August 25, 2018. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
- "The 10th International Linguistics Olympiad". Archived from the original on June 30, 2013. Retrieved August 7, 2013.
- "The International Linguistics Olympiad 2013". July 29, 2012. Retrieved August 7, 2013.
- "The International Linguistics Olympiad 2014". Archived from the original on July 31, 2014. Retrieved July 27, 2014.
- "The International Linguistics Olympiad 2015". Retrieved August 17, 2015.
- "International Olympiad for Linguists 2016". iol14.plo-in.org. Archived from the original on January 12, 2016. Retrieved January 6, 2016.
- "International Linguistics Olympiad 2018". iol.ff.cuni.cz. Retrieved August 5, 2018.
- "IOL 2018 Participants". IOL. IOL. Retrieved August 8, 2018.
- "IOL Yongin 2019". IOL 2019. IOL 2019. Retrieved August 8, 2018.
- "IOL 2019 Participants". IOL. IOL. Retrieved August 6, 2019.
- "Ventspils 2021". Retrieved April 7, 2020.
- "Participants". IOL 2016. Archived from the original on July 9, 2016. Retrieved July 9, 2016.
- "Results". International Linguistics Olympiad. International Linguistics Olympiad. Retrieved July 30, 2021.
- "It may be semantics, but linguistics can be a team event". The Age. Australia. July 26, 2012. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
- IOL official website
- Borovetz, 2003 – Official website
- Moscow, 2004 – Official website
- Leiden, 2005 – Official website
- Tartu, 2006 – Official website
- St. Petersburg, 2007 – Official website Archived September 15, 2017, at the Wayback Machine
- Slanchev Bryag, 2008 – Official website Archived March 24, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
- Wrocław, 2009 – Official website
- Stockholm, 2010 – Official website
- Pittsburgh, 2011 – Official website Archived June 30, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
- Ljubljana, 2012 – Official website Archived June 30, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
- Manchester, 2013 – Official website
- Beijing, 2014 – Official website
- Blagoevgrad, 2015 – Official website Archived May 19, 2017, at the Wayback Machine
- Mysore, 2016 – Official website
- Dublin, 2017 – Official website
- Prague, 2018 - Official website
- Yongin, 2019 - Official website
- Latvia, 2021 (previously, 2020) - Official website Archived May 12, 2020, at the Wayback Machine