Linguistics skills send teen to competition

 Rachel McEnroe Rachel McEnroe JACKSON — Rachel McEnroe, 17, of Jackson, is one of 12 students from across the United States who will represent the nation in the Ninth International Olympiad in Linguistics (IOL), which will be held at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa., the last week in July.

This will be the first time the United States has hosted the IOL, and it will be the first time Canada will send its own team to the international competition, joining the 23 nations that have participated in previous IOLs.

The United States has competed in the IOL since 2007, sending two teams of four students each year. In the past four years, its students have won 17 medals, including three gold medals. Its teams have won the team portion of the competition three times and have won or tied for highest combined score on individual rounds in two of those years.

Rachel achieved her position on the team by becoming a top scorer on the fifth North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad (NACLO).

The NACLO competition included two rounds. In early February, 1,039 students took part in the open round at more than 100 university and high school locations, according to a press release.

Approximately 125 students with the highest scores from the United States and the top 10 students from Canada then advanced to the invitational round, held on March 10, which featured significantly harder questions.

Students compete in the Computational Linguistics Olympiad by solving challenging problems using data from a variety of languages and formal systems. There is no prerequisite knowledge. Students discover facts about languages and formal systems in the course of solving the puzzles. This year, students solved 14 problems, including:

 deciphering the Afaka script, which is used for transcribing the Ndyuka language, an English-based creole of Suriname.

• finding out how letters are formed in New York Point, an alternative to Braille.

• deducing how words and sentences are formed in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec empire.

 analyzing different pronunciations in dialects of Warlpiri, a language of Australia.

 figuring out what happened when a fictional experiment with a computer text-replacement program went wrong.

The top 20 participants from the second round of the NACLO spent a month solving problems on Skype and completing homework assignments.

Rachel was one of the 12 selected from the top 20 to be on the United States team to compete at the IOL.

Rachel is a 2011 graduate of the Hun School of Princeton. She was one of two valedictorians of her class and will be attending the University of Chicago in the fall to major in chemistry and physics, as well as continuing her language and linguistics pursuits.

Rachel has also been a student of the Red Bank Language School in Red Bank for the past four years studying Arabic, Russian and Chinese. Her interests in languages started in middle school and intensified when she won the National Geographic Bee in 2007, becoming the only girl to ever hold this title in New Jersey.

In addition to her academic pursuits, Rachel is a jewelry designer whose work has been published in the April/May 2011 andAugust/September 2011 issues of Super Beadwork Magazine.