Mon, 21 Oct 2019

Why India’s first gold in Linguistics Olympiad does not glitter

Posted on Monday, August 27, 2018

Rujul Gandhi and Angikar Ghosal are first from India to have won gold in lesser known International Linguistics Olympiad (IOL) and the evnt just like the winners fail to get due recognition

This is the first time in the history of International Linguistics Olympiad (IOL), two Indian students have won a gold, although students have been participating for years.

If the eight students who participated this year, Rujul Gandhi and Angikar Ghosal clenched gold for India, in the event held at Prague, Czechia. In all, India got five medals- two golds, one silver, and two bronze.

Despite the historic win, the students and even the Olympiad have yet to get due recognition. This is because of the lack of awareness around linguistics. Linguistic Olympiad is often associated with a test of language or grammar. Surprisingly, not many people know that it is the science of languages.

In IOL, candidates are given jumbled problems in an unknown language and they have to follow the logic behind the construction of languages and provide a solution translated in a commonly known language – which is most often English,” says Rujul Gandhi, 18-year-old gold medallist from Pune, who also organises events to introduce school students to linguistics.

Rujul came to know about linguistics while browsing on internet and she took online classes and self-taught herself about the field before participating in IOL last year. However, she could not win then. “Last year, I received an honorary mention. But this year, I prepared in advance and took guidance of previous year’s participants too,” says Rujul who has secured a seat in Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA. She plans to take both Computer Science and Linguistics in MIT, which she thinks are related.

For Angikar, a class XII student, learning linguistics was a key to understand the diverse languages and cultures of the world. “I started learning German as a subject in school and our teacher explained the relevance of being multi-linguistic. I have been taking courses and researching about it since four years now,” said Kolkata-based Angikar.

"Linguistics are taught at schools in a latent form. We just learn the language, its structure, grammar etc only specifically for one language and do not go into the depth of finding the science behind all languages. By learning linguistics one can apply deep learning, deduction skills, and at the same time learn about Syntex, phonetics, sound chains etc,” he said.

Monojit Choudhary, general chair, Panini Linguistics Olympiad and Researcher Microsoft Research Lab said that the lack of awareness around Linguistic Olympiad is because of the stigma attached to Humanities and lack of ability of teachers to understand the utility of linguistics. While the Linguistic Olympiad gets around 500 students from across the country, the Physics and Mathematics Olympiads receive around 70,000 registrations each, he said.   

"Often schools fail to understand the relevance of linguistics and they assign training of students to an English or literature teacher, but it has more to do with Math and Science teachers since one needs to develop computational thinking and problem-solving ability used in algorithms and Computer Science,” said Choudhary. He further adds that linguistics would be more relevant in the future considering it equips students with the basic skills used in the programming of AI early-on

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