More Linguistics Puzzles

Due to the popularity of my previous posting of linguistics puzzles, I’ve translated some more puzzles from the online book Problems from Linguistics Olympiads 1965-1975. I’ve kept the same problem number as in the book; and I’ve used the Unicode encoding for special characters.

Problem 180. Three Tajik sentences in Russian transliteration with their translations are below:

  • дӯсти хуби ҳамсояи шумо — a good friend of your neighbor
  • ҳамсояи дӯсти хуби шумо — a neighbor of your good friend
  • ҳамсояи хуби дӯсти шумо — a good neighbor of your friend

Your task is to assign a meaning to each out of four used Tajik words.

Problem 185. For every sequence of words given below, explain whether it can be used in a grammatically correct English sentence. If it is possible show an example. In the usage there shouldn’t be any extra signs between the given words.

  1. could to
  2. he have
  3. that that
  4. the John
  5. he should
  6. on walked
  7. the did

Problem 241. In a group of relatives each person is denoted by a lower-case letter and relations by upper-case letters. The relations can be summarized in a table below:

a b c d e f g
a A A B D E E
b A A E D E E
c F F G H I I
d H J J K L L
e B B B N N N
f O O D L Q A
g J J H L K F

The table should be read as following: if the intersection of the row x and the column y has symbol Z, then x is Z with respect to y. It is known that e is a man.

You task is to find out the meaning of every capital letter in the table (each letter can be represented as one English word).



  1. Austin:

    Oh, I enjoyed Problem 185! My answers:

    1. I couldn’t run a mile to save my life, but I think I could to save hers.
    2. Why does he have so little respect for my authority?
    3. I don’t know anything about that that YOU need to know!
    4. Catholicism’s numbers, long in decline, started to rise again during the John Paul II papacy. (My first answer to this was a little more obscure: “I work in the field of convex geometry, in which the John theorem is central.”)
    5. He should be so lucky! (Is that too Yinglish? I can hear you saying to yourself, he should be able to do better than that.)
    6. Just as the crowd was beginning to disperse, on walked the bandleader for a second encore.

    I couldn’t think of an answer to #7 that seemed legitimate to me. My best is this dialogue:

    Defendant: Yes, I did shoot the sheriff, but I didn’t shoot the deputy.
    Judge: Son, I’m more concerned with the did than the didn’t.

  2. midiplay:

    Problem 241 – Excellent puzzle!
    A brother
    B father
    D son
    E uncle
    F sister
    G aunt
    H daughter
    I mother
    J niece
    L cousin
    K granddaughter
    N grandfather
    O nephew
    Q grandson

  3. Tanya Khovanova:

    My son, Alexey, while checking my English for this essay, provided the following solution to number 185:

    We dedicate the John Stevenson Memorial to a dear friend whose tragic death is still so near to us; but that that death may not be in vain, and that through his achievements he have lasting influence on us who survive him, I invite you to recall the did-he-really-cross-the-Rhine story: when we had to cross the Rhine, the whole platoon stopped at the brink, but on walked John, fearless, bearing the flag over the bridge — he should have died that day, and certainly the defenders
    did all they could to shoot him down, but by some chance or Divine will, they could not, so that by the time he was half-way across, we were running after him, and they were running away…

  4. Jonathan:

    I see 180 has not been solved in this space. It appears to be noun adj noun adj with the genitive (possessive) implied by word order (comes second). In the one double adjective example, the possesive pronoun comes last.

    IOW, n adj (of) n adj
    or n (of) n adj adj

  5. English Puzzle | Travis Lee 查维斯:

    […] this site: Problem 185. For every sequence of words given below, explain whether it can be used in a […]

  6. Major Nuance:

    An answer to the question 180. now before give it I have to say I have no idea how to speak Russian or write in that font so I’ll be using similar looking letters for my answer.
    it’s actually it’s hard to give a meaning to each of the words especially if this is all non native speakers is offered. or in other words, hard to do it in English since we have no clue if the words can be used in other ways. but if I were to go from what I see. (Ayctm)=friend. (xy6n)an adjective for good. (xamcoRn)= neighbor. (wymo)= shows posseion of the second word to the first word.

  7. Nikolai Toporkov:

    A wee late for the party. TED riddle led me here. I did solve it though w/out having employed the technique I later came to learn. I have got to admit, as a student, future mgimo graduate (your compatriot!) your short articles (for want of a more precise word) are both fascinating and highly informative.

    Came here a few hours ago and ever since have been on a linguistic binge.

    At least, I do pride myself on having cracked #180.

    Anyways, if you still check that, my answer would be as following: дусти stands for друг, хуби for хороший, хамсояи – сосед, шумо – твой.

    A real humdinger of a blog!

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