The International Linguistics Olympiad (IOL) is one of 12 International Science Olympiads for secondary school students that 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. This year, the 17th IOL will be held in Yongin, South Korea, on July 29 – August 2, 2019. IOL 2019 is jointly organized by HK Semiosis Research Center of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (HUFS) and Korea Linguistics Olympiad (KLO).
The IOL is an event that actively promotes the value of linguistic diversity to future generations. The week-long event includes an individual contest, a team contest, and several lectures in various topics in language and linguistics, presented by linguists from all around the globe. Incidentally, the problems and lectures presented at the IOL mainly feature indigenous/tribal, minority and minoritized (ITM) languages and communities. A problem from last year featured the counting system of Mountain Arapesh (Bukyip) of Papua New Guinea. Another problem featured the lexicon of the Creek language of Oklahoma, USA. At the 14th IOL held in Mysore, India, Professor Anvita Abbi presented a fascinating lecture on the near-extinct languages of the Andaman Isles. These are merely a few examples from the vast range of indigenous/tribal languages that were introduced and discussed in past IOLs. The IOL is a wonderful opportunity for students to deal with indigenous/tribal languages first hand; languages that students seldom encounter at schools.
The IOL is an event where one can learn to appreciate indigenous/tribal, minority and minoritized (ITM) languages. Many problems of the IOL introduce colorful linguistic concepts that are unique to the language and culture of the respective communities. They require the solver to approach languages with a creative, open mind. Horses are foreign to the Yukaghir people of the Siberian Tundra, so they describe horses as “Yakut deer”, after their more numerous neighbors, the Yakut people. The Iatmul word for ‘car’ directly translates into ‘land canoe’ because canoes were the traditional choice of transportation for the Iatmul people of Papua New Guinea. Such examples highlight the value of cultural diversity from a linguistic perspective, and by solving these problems students can learn to appreciate the subtle beauty and uniqueness of each language. It is also an opportunity for students to understand the importance of preserving indigenous languages.
With this exposure, many participating students have chosen to further pursue their interests in linguistics. Several members of the jury of the IOL and the national preliminary contests are in fact former participants who decided to start their own research and create new problems featuring other minority languages. Many students are also studying linguistics at major institutions for higher education all around the world. Over the years, the IOL has served an effective gateway for young linguists.
Over 200 talented young students from 35 countries will participate in this year’s IOL. Contestants are chosen through national prelims held in their respective home countries and are the greatest enthusiasts of language and linguistics.