Ben LaFond ‘18 Earns Gold At International Linguistics Olympiad

Last spring, then senior Ben LaFond performed very well in the 2018 North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad—earning himself a spot representing the United States at the International Linguistics Olympiad (IOL) this summer in Prague. There his linguistic success continued.

Ben earned a gold medal in the individual contest of the 2018 IOL competition. His team (“USA Blue”) also earned first place in the team contest, receiving—in addition—an award for the highest average score on the individual contest. (Ben earned the highest individual score on USA Blue). Ben says the events themselves were gratifying, however the highlight for him was “hanging out with 200+ kids who are (almost) as interested in linguistics as I am. I wouldn’t have expected it, but there are other kids in the world… who have a “favorite phoneme.”

The IOL is one of 12 International Science Olympiads for secondary school students. It draws teams of young linguists from around the world, armed with logical and problem solving abilities, outside-the-box thinking, patience, and creativity, to test their minds against the world’s toughest puzzles in language and linguistics. In this 16th annual competition held in July in Prague, Czechia, 49 teams from 29 countries participated, competing to solve problems on diverse languages including Creek, Hakhum, Mountain Arapesh, and Xavante.

The jury awarded 60 medals (13 gold, 17 silver, and 30 bronze), as well as 19 honorable mentions, six team contest trophies, a team cup for highest average score, and 11 best solution prizes. Ben placed sixth out of all participants with an overall score of 81.4. Prior to traveling to Prague to compete with his teammates, Ben trained alongside them for four days at Carnegie Mellon University. Ben has since begun his first year at Harvard.