Linguistics-at-School-rev-final.doc - Linguistics at School...

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Linguistics at School: The UK Linguistics Olympiad Abstract The UK Linguistics Olympiad, like similar olympiads that have been offered in other countries since they first took place in Moscow in 1965, is an annual competition in which school students test their ability to sort out the underlying patterns and rules in linguistic data. The UK olympiad has only existed since 2010 but by 2012 it already had 2,000 competitors aged between 11 and 18. Its success shows how enthusiastic young people can be about studying language structure. Linguistics olympiads help schools to promote languages and to interest all pupils in language structure; in the UK, this is particularly important in state-funded schools. 1. What is a linguistics olympiad? As its title suggests, a linguistics olympiad (LO) is a competition which ranks competitors in terms of how good they are at thinking like linguists, but since they are all school students, LOs are primarily a means of promoting linguistics at school level. Professional practitioners of linguistics would rightly object to any suggestion that they themselves might be ranked competitively, but at school level it is both possible and extremely productive. The aim of this article is to explain in more detail how LOs work, with the UK olympiad as an example, and to explore the reasons for the UK’s success in this area. 1
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The LO movement follows the path which has already been established for mathematics and some of the physical sciences, and which is embodied at the international level by a dozen competitions ranging from the International Mathematical Olympiad to the International Astronomy Olympiad (see ). Generally, the competition tests the mental skills and knowledge found in the corresponding school subject, but some subjects, including linguistics, are not taught at school so the olympiads cannot assume any ‘technical’ knowledge. In the case of linguistics, this principle rules out not only questions on the grand issues that divide us at a research level, but also technical notations and tools of analysis such as syntactic trees or the International Phonetic Alphabet. Although these exclusions are important, they actually leave a vast amount of relatively concrete but challenging material which is perfect for a school-level competition. The best way to explain LOs is through examples of past test questions, such as those in the 2012 test paper for the Foundation level of the UKLO. (See also Derzhanski and Payne 2010 for more examples. The notion of ‘levels’ of difficulty will be explained in the next section.) This paper can be found on the UKLO website together with the complete version of all the Foundation-level questions, their authors, their solutions and (in some cases) a commentary (see ). In every question, the starting point is a collection of raw data, typically (though not necessarily) from a very unfamiliar language. The tasks require students to go beyond these raw data by working out the underlying patterns and then performing some kind of test of their understanding. We start with Question 1, on Yolmo.
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  • Winter '08
  • Amos,Y
  • UK Linguistics Olympiad, Linguistics Olympiad

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