The IOL is one of 12 International Science Olympiads, and has been held annually since 2003. Each year, teams of young linguists from around the world gather and test their minds against the world's toughest puzzles in language and linguistics.
No prior knowledge of linguistics or languages is required: even the hardest problems require only your logical ability, patient work, and willingness to think around corners. Give some of our past problems a try!
While the teams have to solve them under exam conditions, the 2011 problems are also available for download here, along with past problems. The sample problems give an idea how it works. This is the first and easiest ...
Consider these phrases in Ancient Greek (in a Roman-based transcription) and their unordered English translations:
(A) ho tōn hyiōn dulos ____ (1) the donkey of the master
(B) hoi tōn dulōn cyrioi ____ (2) the brothers of the merchant
(C) hoi tu emporu adelphoi ____ (3) the merchants of the donkeys
(D) hoi tōn onōn emporoi ____ (4) the sons of the masters
(E) ho tu cyriu onos ____ (5) the slave of the sons
(F) ho tu oicu cyrios ____ (6) the masters of the slaves
(G) ho tōn adelphōn oicos ____ (7) the house of the brothers
(H) hoi tōn cyriōn hyioi ____ (8) the master of the house
1. Match the Ancient Greek phrase (A-H) with the corresponding English translation (1-8).
2. Translate into Ancient Greek:
a) the houses of the merchants
b) the donkeys of the slave.
Note: the letter ō stands for a long o.
- By Todor Tchervenkov
For the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad 2007
... but the puzzles range widely, not limited to Indo-European as in the example above, nor even to spoken human languages. This year's are Menominee Verbs, Faroese Orthography, Vai Translation, Nahuatl Translation and EAN-13.
Thanks to Language Log.
Addendum: I've posted my solution to the Ancient Greek puzzle here.