A team of four Irish secondary school students are competing in the International Linguistics Olympiad at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, US, this week.
The competition challenges students to solve complex puzzles that require computational thinking and illustrates there is more to computer science than programming.
Computational linguistics is pervasive in our everyday lives through technologies such as speech recognition systems, search engines and machine translation.
Competing against students from 19 countries, Team Ireland must develop its own strategies to decipher the grammar of unfamiliar languages from around the globe.
In past editions of the Olympiad these unfamiliar languages have included ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, the Incan language Quechua, and Yoda speak (for the Star Wars character’s unique babble).
In solving the problems, students learn about the diversity and consistency of language, and how to apply logic to problems of language understanding and translation.
The members of Team Ireland
Representing Ireland at the Olympiad are 18-year-old Medbh Campbell of Methodist College Belfast, 17-year-old Niamh Dhondt of Loreto Secondary School Kilkenny, 16-year-old Declan Manning of Ballincollig Community School, and Alec Fair, also aged 16, of Methodist College Belfast.
The four students were selected on the basis of their outstanding performance at the All Ireland Linguistics Olympiad (AILO), which was hosted by the Centre for Next Generation Localisation (CNGL) at Dublin City University in March 2011. More than 300 students from 42 counties across Ireland took the challenge this year.
“The logic and problem-solving skills displayed by the students are truly impressive. Their tremendous aptitude for applying these skills to decoding unfamiliar languages bodes well not just for the country’s performance at the International Linguistics Olympiad, but for the future of the highly valuable localisation and language services sectors in Ireland,” said team leader Prof Harold Somers.