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Union of Bulgarian Mathematicians

Mathematics and Its Applications, Volume 3

Linguistic Magic and Mystery

Institute of Mathematics and Informatics
Bulgarian Academy of Sciences
Sofia, Bulgaria


ISBN 978-954-8880-27-5

Self-sufficient linguistic problems (launched as a competitive genre in Moscow in the mid-1960s) are a way of introducing linguistics to secondary school students, but also to all those who are interested, in an entertaining enigmatic form. A linguistic problem features a phenomenon presumed unknown, which the solver must discover using only general knowledge and logical thought.

Each of the twenty chapters of this book is based on a problem assigned at a linguistic contest in Bulgaria around the turn of the millennium. Each problem is accompanied by a detailed solution, as
well as three readings (at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the chapter) on the language, the family to which it belongs and the area where it is spoken, the phenomena in the problem, its counterparts in other languages and much else.

The text is accompanied by a glossary of linguistic terms, family trees of all languages mentioned in the book and several alphabetical indices.



IBAN: BG 68 BFTB 7630 1475 5165 06 (Euros)
IBAN: BG 07 BFTB 7630 1100 3666 12 (US Dollars)






Audience: The book is intended for participants in linguistic contests, for their teachers and trainers, and for all who wish to learn about language, languages and linguistics.

The application of mathematical logic and scientific pattern-sniffing to our own language — or, in the case of this fascinating book, to many, many languages — is a great example of the power of scientific thought. The puzzles themselves are quite wonderful, and the commentary and background about the languages will be a satisfying and varied treat for anyone with an interest in linguistics.

—E. Paul Goldenberg, Researcher and Developer at Education Development Center, Inc., Newton (MA), Distinguished Scholar at Education Development Center

This extraordinary book is an intellectual tour-de-force in the guise of a richly documented collection of problems in language and logic. Except for professional linguists, the existence of Linguistics Olympiads is little known, even to those familiar with Mathematics Olympiads. Thus, it will be a revelation to most readers as well as a compelling introduction to this novel and fascinating area. It provides a unique and valuable contribution to those interested in exploring the sense, structure, and beauty of language. The provocative problems provide challenges across a wide range of topicsin syntax, semantics, phonology, and morphology, and they span a great variety of diverse languages, including Hungarian, Manchu, Irish, Chinese, Japanese, Maori, Hindi, and several others. Along the way, there are compelling asides relating the linguistic materials to topics in literature, mathematics, history, poetry, games, and jokes.

—Wallace Feurzeig, Division Scientist of the Information Sciences Division at BBN Laboratories, Cambridge (MA)


Dr Ivan Derzhanski (born in 1967) is a senior researcher at the Institute of Mathematics and Informatics of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. His interests cover a broad spectrum of topics in theoretical, mathematical and computational linguistics, interlinguistics and the methodology of linguistics. Since 1998 Dr Derzhanski has been in charge of the scientific support of the linguistic competitions for secondary school students in Bulgaria (presently as Chair of the National Committee for Organising the Olympiad and the National Contest in Mathematical Linguistics). He is a key member of the Organising Committee, Problem Committee and Jury of the International Olympiad in Theoretical, Mathematical and Applied Linguistics. Dr Derzhanski regularly lectures on theoretical and enigmatic linguistics in Bulgaria, Russia and other countries.