The UK Linguistics Olympiad is a competition for students who are still at school, in which they have to solve very challenging linguistic data problems. There are several levels ranging from Foundation to Advanced. Last year, in Beijing, 28 countries from around the world participated and the UK achieved a Gold Medal for the first time with Ellie Werner.
Last year Alexia entered the competition for the first time, together with a small group of pupils from her school, Comberton Village College at Foundation and Intermediate level. This year, Alexia, who had achieved 97% in last year’s competition, decided to enter at Advanced Level which is typically entered by 17 to 18 year old students. She found out in March that she had achieved a Gold Certificate in round 1 competing against 1700 students mainly from the independent sector. This meant that she was selected for Round 2 which took place at Somerville College during the weekend of 20th March. Only 15 out of 1700 students who entered at Advanced Level made it to Round 2 and Alexia is one of the youngest contestants to make it to Round 2 and to achieve Gold at Advanced Level in Round 1. Following the results the Round 2 competition, only 4 out of the 15 round 1 contestants will make it to the International Olympiad of Linguistics which will take place in Bulgaria this summer.
The competition weekend started on Friday 20th March in Oxford with a welcome from the Head of the Linguistics Department at Somerville College, Oxford. The next day consisted of intense training with many linguistics questions and problems to tackle and advice on strategies. Unfortunately, Alexia did not have access to all of the materials in Braille but she did her best to make the most of the training by relying entirely on her memory. The next day, contestants were put to the test during a gruelling 3 hour paper in which they had to solve highly complex linguistic problems ranging from Maxakali, Malagasy, Hmong, Aymara and Vulgar Latin. For Alexia, the competition consisted of a 6 hour paper rather than 3 hours due to the fact that Braille takes much longer to read than print. Her paper was 30 double sided Braille pages whilst for her sighted peers, it was a 6 A4 double sided paper. There is still a long way to go to make this competition fully accessible to blind contestants but Alexia’s achievement in Round 1 was truly remarkable. Following on this year’s success, Alexia would like to start a Linguistics Club at Comberton Village College in which pupils would meet once a week and practice and tackle linguistics problems together with a view to getting more Comberton linguists entering next year’s Linguistics Olympiad.
A picture of Alexia at Somerville College, Oxford, on 20th March 2015 taking the second round of the UK Advanced Linguistics Olympiad paper.