Archive for the ‘Linguistics’ Category.

A Russian Internet Linguistics Olympiad

I just discovered a Russian Internet Linguistics Olympiad. Even though most linguistics problems are not translatable, this time we are lucky. My favorite problem from this Olympiad is related to chemical elements — their names in Russian have the same logical structure as in English. Keep in mind, the problem doesn’t assume any knowledge of chemistry. Here is the problem:

The formulae for chemical elements and their names are given below in mixed order:
C3H8, C4H6, C3H4, C4H8, C7H14, C2H2;
Heptene, Butine, Propane, Butene, Ethine, Propine.

  1. Match the formulae with their names. Explain your solution.
  2. Write the names of the elements with the following formulae: C2H4, C2H6, C7H12.
  3. Write the formulae for the following elements: Propene, Butane.

It’s All Greek to Me

When my son Sergei made it to the International Linguistics Olympiad I got very excited. After I calmed down I realized that training for this competition is not easy because it is very difficult to find linguistics puzzles in English. This in turn is because these Olympiads started in the USSR many years ago and were adopted here only recently. So I started translating problems from Russian and designing them myself for my son and his team. For this particular problem I had an ulterior motive. I wanted to remind my son and his team of rare words in English with Greek origins. Here is the problem:

We use many words that have Greek origins, for example: amoral, asymmetric, barometer, chronology, demagogue, dermatology, gynecologist, horoscope, mania, mystic, orthodox, philosophy, photography, polygon, psychology, telegram and telephone. In this puzzle, I assume that you know the meanings of these words. Also, since I am a generous person, I will give you definitions from of some additional words derived from Greek. If you do not know these words, you should learn them, as I picked words for this list that gave me at least one million Google results.

  • Agoraphobia — an abnormal fear of open or public places.
  • Anagram — a word or phrase formed by reordering the letters of another word or phrase, such as satin to stain.
  • Alexander — defender of men.
  • Amphibian — an animal capable of living both on land and in water.
  • Anthropology — the scientific study of the origin, the behavior, and the physical, social, and cultural development of humans.
  • Antipathy — a strong feeling of aversion or repugnance.
  • Antonym — a word having a meaning opposite to that of another word.
  • Bibliophile — a lover of books or a collector of books.
  • Dyslexia — a learning disability characterized by problems in reading, spelling, writing, speaking or listening.
  • Fibromyalgia — muscle pain.
  • Hippodrome — an arena for equestrian shows.
  • Misogyny — hatred of women.
  • Otorhinolaryngology — the medical specialty concerned with diseases of the ear, nose and throat.
  • Pedophilia — the act or fantasy on the part of an adult of engaging in sexual activity with a child or children.
  • Polygamy — the condition or practice of having more than one spouse at one time.
  • Polyglot — a person having a speaking, reading, or writing knowledge of several languages.
  • Tachycardia — a rapid heart rate.
  • Telepathy — communication through means other than the senses, as by the exercise of an occult power.
  • Toxicology — the study of the nature, effects, and detection of poisons and the treatment of poisoning.

In the list below, I picked very rare English words with Greek origins. You can derive the meanings of these words without looking in a dictionary, just by using your knowledge of the Greek words above.

  • Barology
  • Bibliophobia
  • Cardialgia
  • Dromomania
  • Gynophilia
  • Hippophobia
  • Logophobia
  • Misandry
  • Misanthropy
  • Misogamy
  • Monandry
  • Monoglottism
  • Mystagogue
  • Pedagogue
  • Philanthropism

Here are some other words. You do not have enough information in this text to derive their definitions, but you might be able to use your erudition to guess the meaning.

  • Antinomy
  • Apatheist
  • Axiology
  • Dactyloscopy
  • Enneagon
  • Oology
  • Paraskevidekatriaphobia
  • Philadelphia
  • Phytology
  • Triskaidekaphobia

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).


Can You Count to 100?

Of course you can. Can you do it in Russian? You do not need to know Russian to do it; you just need to solve my puzzle. Below are some numerals written in Russian. You have enough information to write any number from 1 to 99 inclusive in Russian.

  • 1 — один
  • 10 — десять
  • 11 — одиннадцать
  • 12 — двенадцать
  • 13 — тринадцать
  • 14 — четырнадцать
  • 15 — пятнадцать
  • 18 — восемнадцать
  • 22 — двадцать два
  • 31 — тридцать один
  • 33 — тридцать три
  • 40 — сорок
  • 44 — сорок четыре
  • 46 — сорок шесть
  • 55 — пятьдесят пять
  • 88 — восемьдесят восемь
  • 97 — девяносто семь
  • 99 — девяносто девять

If you are too lazy to write all the Russian numerals I requested, try the most difficult ones: 16, 17, 19, 67 and 76.

If you know Russian, then I have a back-up puzzle for you. Do the same thing for French:

  • 1 — un
  • 10 — dix
  • 11 — onze
  • 12 — douze
  • 13 — treize
  • 14 — quatorze
  • 16 — seize
  • 17 — dix-sept
  • 21 — vingt-et-un
  • 22 — vingt-deux
  • 31 — trente-et-un
  • 33 — trente-trois
  • 40 — quarante
  • 44 — quarante-quatre
  • 46 — quarante-six
  • 48 — quarante-huit
  • 55 — cinquante-cinq
  • 61 — soixante-et-un
  • 71 — soixante et onze
  • 72 — soixante-douze
  • 75 — soixante-quinze
  • 79 — soixante-dix-neuf
  • 80 — quatre-vingts
  • 81 — quatre-vingt-un
  • 91 — quatre-vingt-onze
  • 98 — quatre-vingt-dix-huit

And again, if you are lazy, you can concentrate on translating 15, 18, 19, 41, 51, 56, 65, 78 and 99 into French.

I invite my readers to create similar puzzles in all languages.


A Puzzle in Psilvanian

In Psilvania no one knows English, except for one retired professor Mary Bobs. That is why every year the organizers of the linguistics Olympiad in Psilvania beg Mary to design a puzzle in English. Kids in Psilvania know other languages — which gives individuals an advantage if the puzzle is in those languages. An English puzzle would create a level playing field.

Here is the puzzle that Mary proposed. I’m omitting the Psilvanian text, because the characters do not match anything in Unicode tables.

Professor Bobs provided the following sentences in English, accompanied by their translations into Psilvanian. She called these sentences Raw Materials:

  • Kate is devouring a pencil.
  • A laptop is being devoured by Paul.
  • A fig is eating Kate.
  • Kate is dating a fig.
  • Jane is defenestrating Paul.
  • Pete is being defenestrated by Paul.

The first task that she required was to translate the following sentences into Psilvanian:

  • Paul is being dated by a laptop.
  • Jane is being devoured by Paul.

Professor Mary Bobs had quit smoking that very week and she couldn’t concentrate. It seems that she may have given more information than is necessary. Is it possible to remove any of the Raw Materials (one or more translated sentences) and keep the puzzle solvable? If so, what is the largest number of Raw Materials you can eliminate? Explain.

Her second task was to translate some sentences from Psilvanian into English, and the answers she hoped the students would calculate were:

  • A fig is being eaten by Paul.
  • A pencil is being devoured by a laptop.
  • A laptop is being defenestrated by Pete.

For each of the three English sentences above, decide whether the participants of the Olympiad will be capable of getting this particular answer. If for any of these three sentences you suspect that they will not be able to arrive at the correct answer, explain why.


The Solution to the Swahili Puzzle

I would like to discuss the solution to one of the linguistics puzzles I posted a while ago. Here is problem number 211 from the online book Problems from Linguistics Olympiads 1965-1975:

You are given words in Swahili: mtu, mbuzi, jito, mgeni, jitu and kibuzi. Their translations in a different order are: giant, little goat, guest, goat, person and large river. Make the correspondence.

First, lets say that a giant is a large man. The Swahili translation of “giant” may have elements of Swahili words for a “man” and a “large river”. Next we notice that each of these Swahili words naturally divides into two parts. We can put them in a table such that the first part is the same for every row and the second part is the same for every column.

m-tu m-buzi m-geni
ji-tu ji-to

When I gave this problem to my students, they loved the idea that the word “giant” is comprised of the two words “large” and “man”, so they assumed that in Swahili a “guest” would also have a two-part translation, such as a “man who visits.” In the list of words we have three different types of “man”: man, giant and guest. Once they noticed that “m” appears three times, they concluded that “m” must mean a man. Therefore, the object must be the first part of a Swahili word, while the second part contains its description.

Next, they noted that the first part “ji” appears twice. They decided that “ji” must be a goat and thus “ki” must be a river. All of this gives us sufficient information to derive the translations: “mgeni” a guest, “kibuzi” a large river, “mbuzi” a giant, “mtu” a man, “jitu” a goat and “jito” a little goat.

My students were very proud of themselves, but I was dissatisfied with this solution. Here are the problems I’ve identified:

  • If “buzi” means large, then what does “tu” mean?
  • If “tu” means normal size, then what is the size of the guest?
  • If everything is about sizes, then the descriptive part “geni” is an odd one out.
  • In a real language what part should be smaller: the one describing the size of the object or the one describing the object itself?

I would suggest a different approach. Let’s say that the puzzle is about sizes, and we have three objects (man, guest, goat) of normal size, two large objects (giant and large river), and one small object (little goat). That means “m” must mean normal, and the size description is in front. If the first part is the size, then “ki” is small, “ji” large. From here “mgeni” is a guest, “kibuzi” a little goat, “mbuzi” a goat, “mtu” a man, “jitu” a giant, and “jito” is a large river.

I love this puzzle because it teaches us to continue pondering, even after everything seems to fit. If you stumble upon the first solution you need to go back and think some more. Only after you discover the second solution does it become clear that the second one is right.


A Killer Puzzle

I’ve been translating a lot of linguistics puzzles lately. Now it is my turn to create a new linguistics puzzle. Here are some English phrases with their Russian translations:

  • John killed Mary — Джон убил Мэри
  • Mary killed Sam — Мэри убила Сэма
  • Sam killed John — Сэм убил Джона

Your task is to translate into Russian the following sentences:

  • John killed Sam
  • Mary killed John
  • Sam killed Mary

Bonus question. Have you noticed any signs that I am getting tired of linguistics?


Linguistics Puzzles for Middle School

I stumbled on a Russian linguistics competition called The Russian Little Bear. Most of the puzzles are Russian-specific; but some of them can be translated. I concentrated on puzzles for grades six through nine and used Unicode for uncoding strange characters.

Problem 1. Here are some Latin words with their English translations:

  • amo — I love
  • amat — He loves
  • invitor — I am invited
  • invitaris — You are invited
  • rogas — You ask
  • rogatur — He is asked

Pick the line of words from A to E that best translates these phrases into Latin: You are loved, I ask, He invites.

  • (A) amas, rogo, invitat;
  • (B) amaris, rogo, invitat;
  • (C) amaris, rogor, invitas;
  • (D) amaris, rogat, invitatur;
  • (E) amaris, rogo, invito.

Problem 2. The first astronauts from India (I), Hungary (H), France (F) and Germany (G) were Bertalan Farkas (1), Sigmund Jähn (2), Rakesh Sharma (3) and Jean-Loup Chrétien (4). Match the astronauts to the countries:

  • (A) I2, H1, F4, G3;
  • (B) I3, H1, F4, G2;
  • (C) I3, H1, F2, G4;
  • (D) I1, H4, F3, G2;
  • (E) I3, H2, F4, G1.

Problem 3. You do not need to know Russian to solve this puzzle. It is enough to know the modern Russian alphabet: А, Б, В, Г, Д, Е, Ё, Ж, З, И, Й, К, Л, М, Н, О, П, Р, С, Т, У, Ф, Х, Ц, Ч, Ш, Щ, Ъ, Ы, Ь, Э, Ю. Before XVIII century, numbers in Russian were denoted by letters, for example: ТЛЕ — 335, РМД — 144, ФЛВ — 532.

How was 225 written in old Russian?

(A) ВВФ; (B) ВВЕ; (C) СКЕ; (D) СКФ; (E) ВНФ.

Problem 4. Here are several Turkish words and phrases with their English translations:

  • ada — an isle
  • adalar — isles
  • iki tas — two cups
  • adam — a man
  • otuz adam — thirty men
  • taslar — cups

Pick the line of words from A to E that best translates these phrases into Turkish: thirty isles, men?

  • (A) otuz adalar, adamlar;
  • (B) otuz ada, adam;
  • (C) otuz adalar, adam;
  • (D) otuz ada, adamlar;
  • (E) ikilar ada, adamlar.

Phonetics 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. All of them are from the phonetics section and I’ve kept the same problem number as in the book. I’ve used the Unicode encoding for special characters.

Problem 20. In the table below there are numerals from some Polynesian languages. Note that I couldn’t find the proper English translation for one of the languages, so I used transliteration from Russian. The language sounds like “Nukuhiva” in Russian.

Languages 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Hawaiian kahi lua   ha lima ono hiku walu   *****
Māori tahi rua toru wha   ono whitu waru iwa *****
Nukuhiva tahi   to’u ha   ono   va’u   *****
Rarotongan ta’i     ‘a rima ono ‘itu varu iva ŋa’uru
Samoan tasi lua     lima ono fitu   iva ŋafulu

Your task is to find the words that should be in the empty cells. Note that wh, ‘, and ŋ denote special consonants.

Problem 21. Below you will find words in several relative languages. You can group these words into pairs or triples of words with the same origin and the same or a similar meaning.

āk, dagr, bōk, leib, fōtr, waʐʐar, buoh, dæʒ, plōgr, hām, wæter, hleifr, pfluog, eih, heimr, fuoʐ, plōʒ.

Task 1. Divide the words into groups so that the first group has words from the same language, the second group has words from another language and so on.

Task 2. (optional) List your suggestions about the meanings of the words and about the identity of the languages.

Problem 22. These words from the Aliutor language are followed by their translations. The stresses are marked by an apostrophe in front of the stressed vowel.

  • t’atul — fox
  • nətɣ’əlqin — hot
  • nur’aqin — far away
  • ɣ’əlɣən — skin
  • n’eqəqin — fast
  • nəs’əqqin — cold
  • tapl’aŋətkən — He sews shoes
  • k’əmɣətək — to roll up
  • ʔ’itək — to be
  • paq’ətkuk — gallop
  • n’ilɣəqinat — white (they both)
  • p’unta — liver
  • qet’umɣən — relative
  • p’iwtak — to pour
  • nəm’itqin — skillful
  • t’umɣətum — friend
  • t’ətka — walrus
  • k’əttil — forehead
  • qalp’uqal — rainbow
  • kəp’irik — hold (a baby in the hands)
  • təv’itatətkən — I work
  • p’intəvəlŋək — attack (each other)

Your task is to put the stresses in the following words: sawat ‘lasso’, pantawwi ‘fur boots’, nəktəqin ‘solid’, ɣətɣan ‘late autumn’, nəminəm ‘bouillon’, nirvəqin ‘sharp’, pujɣən ‘spear’, tilmətil ‘eagle’, wiruwir ‘red fish’, wintatək ‘to help’, nəmalqin ‘good’, jaqjaq ‘seagull’, jatək ‘to come’, tavitətkən ‘I will work’, pintətkən ‘he attacks (someone)’, tajəsqəŋki ‘in the evening’.

Note that the vowel ə is similar to many unstressed syllables in English words, such as the second syllable in the words “taken” and “pencil”. This vowel is shorter than other vowels in the Aliutor language.


Linguistics Puzzles

I have an old book which I value a great deal. The book is called 200 Problems in Linguistics and Mathematics and only 1,550 copies were printed in 1972. Luckily, a new extended edition just appeared on the web. Both editions are in Russian, so I decided to translate some of the problems into English. Here is a sample:

Problem 1. Here are phrases in Swahili with their English translations:

  • atakupenda — He will love you.
  • nitawapiga — I will beat them.
  • atatupenda — He will love us.
  • anakupiga — He beats you.
  • nitampenda — I will love him.
  • unawasumbua — You annoy them.

Translate the following into Swahili:

  • You will love them.
  • I annoy him.

Problem 2. You are given words in Swahili: mtu, mbuzi, jito, mgeni, jitu and kibuzi. Their translations in a different order are: giant, little goat, guest, goat, person and large river. Make the correspondence.

Problem 3. In Russian the middle name is the patronymic. Thus, the middle initial is the first letter of the father’s first name. And, as in many languages, the first initial is the first letter of the first name. Here are names of males in a family:

  • A.N. Petrov
  • B.M. Petrov
  • G.K. Petrov
  • K.M. Petrov
  • K.T. Petrov
  • M.M. Petrov
  • M.N. Petrov
  • N.M. Petrov
  • N.K. Petrov
  • N.T. Petrov
  • T.M. Petrov

Draw the family tree of the Petrovs, given that every father has two sons, the patriarch of the family has four grandsons, and his sons have two grandsons each. Prove that the solution is unique.

Problem 4. In Latvian a noun can be one of two genders; furthermore, adjectives agree with nouns in gender, number and case. You are given phrases in either the nominative or the genitive case with their translations:

  • silts ezers — warm lake
  • melns lauva — black lion
  • liela krāsns — big oven
  • lielas jūras — big sea’s
  • sarkana ezera — red lake’s
  • melna kafija — black coffee
  • sarkans putns — red bird
  • liela kalna — big mountain’s
  • sarkanas lapas — red leaf’s
  • sarkana pils — red castle
  • liels ezers — big lake
  • melna putna — black bird’s
  • liela lauvas — big lion’s
  • silta jūra — warm sea
  • melnas kafijas — black coffee’s
  • liels kalns — big mountain

Indicate which words are nouns and which are adjectives. Divide Latvian nouns into two groups, so that each group contains words of the same gender.

Problem 5. The Portuguese language takes its roots from Latin. In this problem modern Portuguese words are written on the left and their roots (in Latin and other languages on the right). All the words on the left belong to one of three classes: ancient borrowing, early borrowing and late borrowing.

  • chegar — plicare
  • praino — plaine
  • plátano — platanum
  • chão — planum
  • plebe — plebem
  • cheio — plenum
  • prancha — planche

For every Portuguese word, indicate which class it belongs to. (Note that in Portuguese “ch” is pronounced as “sh”.)