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News Release 09-008

(Computational Linguistic) Olympiad Trials Start Soon

High school students across the country to compete

Photo of a student working through the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad challenge.

A student works her way through the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad challenge.

January 26, 2009

View a video of a computational linguistics challenge.

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

Early next month, high school students from across the United States and Canada will begin the first rounds of the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad (NACLO). Although the competition aims to identify students to represent the United States at the 2009 International Linguistics Olympiad, it is also a chance for young people to explore their interests in linguistics, math or computer science and pick up some useful new skills.

During the first round of NACLO, which is held around the country and also online, students are given a number of challenging computational linguistics puzzles. One question might offer, for example, a few sentences in a rarely-spoken language along with their English translations. The students would then be given sentences in just the foreign language and would then need to offer possible translations.

Aside from being a fun intellectual challenge, the Olympiad mimics the skills used by researchers and scholars in the field of computational linguistics, which is increasingly essential for the United States and other countries. Using computational linguistics, these experts can develop automated technologies such as translation software that cut down on the time and training needed to work with other languages, or software that automatically produces informative English summaries of documents in other languages or answer questions about information in these documents.

In an increasingly global economy where businesses operate across borders and languages, having a strong pool of computational linguists is a competitive advantage. With threats emerging from different parts of the world, developing computational linguistics skills has also been identified as a vital component of national defense in the 21st century.

Because of the growing importance of this intriguing field, the National Science Foundation initiated NACLO, and together with major contributions from the North American chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics, Google, Carnegie-Mellon University's Leonard Gelfand Center for Outreach, and the University of Michigan, helped fund NACLO's activities this year, along with other support from Cambridge University Press, Just Systems Evans Research, M*Modal, Powerset and Vivisimo.


Media Contacts
Dana W. Cruikshank, NSF, (703) 292-8070, email:

Program Contacts
Tatiana (Tanya) Korelsky, NSF, (703) 292-8930, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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