Learning Language Through Linguistics Puzzles

Chloe Lee '17

The project: Ms. Lee, a Latin scholar and a mathlete, investigated whether linguistics puzzles could be an effective tool for learning languages. In her own study of Latin, she had noticed that she approached the language as if it were a math equation, and wondered if math and language are somehow connected. Her introduction to linguistics puzzles in Honors Discrete Math provided a way to further explore this question. The puzzles ask students to use logic or pattern recognition to answer questions about a language they have never seen before. Ms. Lee presented puzzles to two groups of students, followed by a grammar exercise. While her results were initially inconclusive, she is continuing her work and developing a new approach.

Biggest challenge. “There really wasn’t much information on this topic on the internet. I had trouble finding data or research papers, so I decided to conduct my own research. That was challenging. I did a little experiment based on knowledge from AP Statistics, which I took last year. I collaborated with my teachers and their classes, Honors Latin 2 and Spanish 2. For the Latin class, I generated randomized groups and gave out the linguistics puzzle, then the grammar exercise. I didn’t get the result I desired because probably the class size was too small, just 6, so my second experiment was with a Spanish class of eleven. I divided the test into three parts: grammar exercise, linguistics puzzle, and another grammar exercise. Again, I didn’t really get the desired results. So I think what I’m going to do is study more about language and mathematics and then maybe come up with my own linguistics puzzle.”

Surprising discovery. “Doing my own experimental research was harder than I thought. I had only read research that had already been done, and written up clearly. It was really interesting to do my own.”

Tip for future scholars. “You don’t have to know exactly what you want to do. I first wanted to study language and mathematical algorithms, but I didn’t have much knowledge of algorithms. Teachers helped me along the way, and studying on my own really changed the path of my research. If you have something you are passionate about, you can just start and see how it goes.”

From her presentation: A sample of a linguistics puzzle.