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Language brain-teasers for HS students

November 19, 2010


Are you a high school student with a knack for languages, logic and “computational thinking”? NACLO (North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad) is an educational competition in Linguistics – the science of language.  No prior foreign language knowledge is required — the competition requires you to determine patterns using logic.

The Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of North Texas is sponsoring this NACLO competition on February 2, 2011. The event is open to all high school students. It will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 12 noon at Mac Café in McConnell Hall, at 1705 W. Sycamore on the UNT campus. See this campus map: The University of Texas at Dallas is also a location for the NACLO Competition.

Sample problem

(no prior knowledge of the language of Abma — figure out the puzzle):
Abma is an Austronesian language spoken in parts of the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu by around 8,000 people. Carefully study these Abma sentences, then answer the following questions. Note that there is no separate word for ‘the’ or ‘he’ in these Abma sentences.

Here are some sample sentences and words in Abma:
Mwamni sileng. (He drinks water.)
Nutsu mwatbo mwamni sileng. (The child keeps drinking water.)
Mwerava Mabontare mwisib. (He pulls Mabontare down.)
Mabontare mwisib. (Mabontare goes down.)
Mweselkani tela mwesak. (He carries the axe up.)
Mwelebte sileng mwabma. (He brings water.)
Mabontare mworob mwesak. (Mabontare runs up.)
Sileng mworob. (The water runs.)
sesesrakan (teacher)

Use the above information to translate the following sentence:
The teacher carries the water down.

If you figured out, “Sesesrakan mweselkani sileng mwisib.” This is the competition for you!!

For more examples of problems and more details, go to the NACLO website at

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