Inspiring the next generation

Submitted by Joyce Parvi on

The first, open round of the 2023 North American Computational
Linguistics Open Competition (NACLO) took
place at UW in the HUB on Jan. 26, 2023, with about 30 contestants
participating.  NACLO is an annual event locally organized by UW
Linguistics adjunct Luke Zettlemoyer, affiliate James Hoard, and
Academic Counselor Joyce Parvi, and sponsored by the Department of

The contestants, who are middle school and high school students, use
only general skills in logic and reasoning to solve puzzles which
involve linguistic data. They have no training in linguistics or
specific languages.  Hoard, who has been involved with the event for a
number of years, describes the test questions:  “The problems differ
in difficulty, and each one is assigned a total points value (5, 10,
or 15) based on the level of difficulty, as judged by the organizing
committee. The whole problem set totals 100 points. The total possible
points for each problem is noted on the sheets handed out to the
students, so they can estimate how much time to allot to each one
during the three hours of the competition.”

After the first round, the contestants’ answer sheets are scanned and
e-mailed off for scoring (by hand). Partial credit is given for
partially correct answers. After that, the top scoring students (about
the top 10%) will advance to the next, Invitational Round, which
typically has about 100-150 contestants, again testing at various
institutions. The top eight U.S. students from the Invitational Round
will be selected for the US Team to compete in the 20th International
Linguistics Olympiad, Banslo, Bulgaria.

Hoard describes the difficulty of the test:  “So far as I am aware, no
student has ever scored 100 for either the Open or Invitational Rounds
across the US and Canada in any of the years since we began hosting
NACLO competitions. And the organizing committee doesn’t want perfect
scores, for they need a clear range of total scores in order to select
the US Team (and the Canadian Team).”

UW was one of 88 institutions in the US and Canada hosting NACLO 2023,
and has been involved with NACLO since 2009.  Hoard supplies some
history of UW Linguistics’ participation in the event.  In 2009 “a
student from Lake Sammamish HS made the US Team. We’ve had several
winners from Lakeside HS that made the US Team. Two of them won more
than once. The professor, Dragomir Radev (Yale University), who has
accompanied the team to the International Olympiads for all the time
we've been hosting it, called them the ‘Seattle Boys’. We had a
student who made the team from Ingraham HS another year. All the
students from our area who went to the International Olympiad won
prizes for their performance, both individual prizes and team prizes.
The Seattle Boys from Lakeside were particularly outstanding.

          One notable thing: Many of the students who participate in
NACLO really enjoy the challenge. A few of them have asked me about
what universities they might apply to. And, for sure, it’s very, very
difficult to make the US Team.”

Go next generation!