March 7, 2016

Department of Linguistics Participant Pool

Thanks to the excellent hard work of Ph.D. students Emily Clare and Ruth Maddeaux, our department now has a participant pool that can be used by those doing experimental research. This minimizes the time and effort necessary for tracking down participants, as well as the amount of funding needed to run a useful study.

The participant pool allows undergraduate students to participate in linguistics experiments for course credit. It's administrated in one course per semester – in Fall 2015, LIN228, and in the present semester, LIN229. The course instructor sets up the syllabus such that 2% of the student’s participation grade comes from participating in an experiment. The experiments are run by graduate students and faculty in the linguistics department. The pool is an excellent resource for grad students (and faculty!), because it allows them to test a greater number of participants without needing to have the funding to pay them, and without having to advertise for participants independently.

The pool is also a major benefit to our undergraduate students, who get first-hand experience of how experimental work is done. Feedback from undergrads so far has been very positive and has attracted students interested in learning more about linguistic experimentation.

The participant pool suited to a whole range of experimental research in linguistics. Thus far, individual experiments drawing on the pool have asked participants to discriminate between sounds, to give grammaticality judgments, to  wear an eye tracking device while they read sentences, and more.

Researchers who have an experiment to run and are interested in using the pool should get in touch with Ruth Maddeaux ( and send her a brief description of their study. Every semester, there will be a deadline sometime around the start of classes by which interested researchers need to have received their ethics approval (including approval to compensate students with course credit, which has to be built into the ethics submission) and their experiment protocol ready. If they have everything in place by that deadline, they are welcome to have their experiment included in the pool! Researchers are highly encouraged to get in touch with Ruth as they’re preparing their ethics submissions, since there is some specific language involving the use of the pool that needs to be included.

If all goes well, Ruth will then post all the available experiments on the Blackboard page for the course that the pool is running in, with links to where the students can sign up for the experiment of their choosing. After that, the researcher will schedule appointments with the students who signed up for their experiment. Once the student’s participation is done, the researcher signs a sheet confirming that the student participated. At the end of the semester, Ruth assigns the 2% extra credit to all the students who participated. As much as possible, the students are divided evenly between the experiments, to make sure all researchers get the same number of participants.

There is a Gmail account – – at which students can contact Ruth (as the pool manager) if they have general questions about the process, or if they run into a problem. Course instructors interested in having the participant pool run in their course should also get in touch with Ruth. The endeavour wouldn’t be possible without them, and it involves very little extra work for them.

There is a bonus advantage to recruiting Toronto students into the participant pool, and that is the enormous variety of linguistic backgrounds in our classrooms! As a linguistics department, this is a valuable resource. In exchange for the benefit of using the pool, researchers are asked to record their participants reading a word-list in their native language. The participants also fill out a short language background questionnaire. At the end of the semester, I upload all the recordings along with the questionnaires into a database. As the semesters go by, we’ll build up quite a big database filled with recordings of our students. They can be used in class projects, for pretty much anything the instructor can think of!

(Thanks very much to Ruth Maddeaux for all the details!)

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