My Experience at the International Linguistics Olympiad 2019

Team Ireland

I’m writing this on the flight back from the 17th International Linguistics Olympiad(IOL). IOL 2019 took place in Yongin, South Korea from the 29th of July to the 2nd of August, and it was a fantastic week. Ireland was represented by myself (Laura Cosgrave), Keelan Daye, Flynn Ryan and Páidí Walsh. We were accompanied by the best team leaders, Cara Greene of ADAPT and Harold Somers. IOL is a relatively young Olympiad at international level, so it is much smaller than IMO, with 209 contestants from 53 teams representing 36 countries/regions. The smaller number of participants means that it is much easier to do activities as a group and to get to know people.

The Contest

 Tuesday was the big day – the individual competition. A six hours exam with five tough problems, this was certainly a challenging, yet enjoyable, experience. It was like nothing I’d ever done before, despite being used to 4.5 hour papers from IMO and EGMO. It left us exhausted – but not too exhausted for karaoke! You can try the problems yourself at ioling.org/problems/2019/. My favourites were problem 2, which won solver’s choice, and problem 5. 

The team contest took place on Thursday. Each team of four contestants had three hours to solve a challenging problem that requires communication, collaboration, logic and ingenuity. This year teams had to decipher the scoring and writing systems used for rhythmic gymnastics. Although this does not resemble a typical linguistics problem, the system of symbols is actually a writing system, with the main features of one. Teams were provided with laptops to watch videos of certain rhythmic gymnastics sequences. Some teams even tried to preform the moves themselves! The problem was fascinating and we really enjoyed solving it.

The excursion

We had the opportunity to really explore Korea on Wednesday, with an excursion to Seoul. We learned about the Korean Hangeul writing system, and its history at the National Hangeul Museum, as well as getting an insight into Korean culture, with a concert that creatively combined both traditional and modern Korean music and dancing, including traditional drums, a traditional fan dance, and breakdancing. After this we had the opportunity to explore the Gyeongbokgung palace. Completely different to anything I had seen before, it was beautiful and has an interesting history. It was the main palace of the Joseon dynasty. 

We then spent an hour or so exploring tourist shops and buying souvenirs. We visited a Buddhist temple, something that I had never seen before. The temple had gorgeous gardens full of flowers and was very peaceful. The day was finished off with dinner in a buffet restaurant. A lot was packed into one day and we really enjoyed it and learned lots about Korea.

The team in Seoul with Philip, a volunteer from Ireland

My experience

IOL was an unbeatable experience. There was a fantastic program of activities, we were always having fun and meeting people. Between karaoke, games, a machine translation lecture, IOL’s Got Talent, IOL Jeopardy and #LinguisticsMakesFriends(a group activity that involved matching a long list of texts with the correct language), we were never bored. The social side of IOL is fantastic, one of the reasons the Olympiad was founded was to encourage teenagers who love linguistics and problem solving from all over the world to make friends, an aim it is definitely achieving. I met dozens of lovely people from all over the world and made great friends. Of course, solving this year’s problems in the individual and especially the team round was an enjoyable, mind-bending challenge. Linguistics is a fascinating field and I’m excited to learn more about it! From my own experience and from talking to people, it is definitely one of the most enjoyable science Olympiads. Thanks to Minkyu and the other organisers for organising it all and ADAPT and our team leaders for making Ireland’s participation possible. 

To learn more about the All Ireland Linguistics Olympiad and to find out how to participate, visit ailo.adaptcentre.ie.

-Laura Cosgrave

Photos from the ADAPT Centre