Research Ethics

Procedures for Research with Human Participants for Members of the Department of Linguistics, University of Toronto


  • Any research involving human participants requires ethics approval.
  • Approval is given at the department level (Delegated Ethics Review Committee or DERC) for linguistic elicitation and for some other student research projects. Approval is given at the University level, by the Research Ethics Board (REB), for all other types of research with human participants.
  • Graduate students: Note that your supervisor for the project must initiate the protocol and designate you as a collaborator.
  • Policies are established in the Tri-Council Policy Statement (TCPS2).

"Research" involves surveys, interviews (oral or written), psycholinguistics experiments, questionnaires (oral or written), grammaticality judgments, elicitation, glossing. Observation of naturally occurring events, normal testing procedures and assessment do not constitute research. In the TCPS (p. 15), “research” is defined as "an undertaking intended to extend knowledge through a disciplined inquiry or systematic investigation." Most work that members of the Department of Linguistics conduct with people falls under the "research" category.

A "participant" in a research project is defined in the TCPS (p. 194) as "an individual whose data, or responses to interventions, stimuli, or questions by a researcher are relevant to answering a research question; also referred to as 'human participant,' and in other policies/guidance as 'subject' or 'research subject.'" This includes anyone who is involved in the types of research processes listed in the paragraph above. An example of a type of linguistic research that would not require Ethics approval would be analysis of dialogue from a book or movie script.

"Elicitation" involves asking a speaker or speakers to produce words or phrases, provide grammaticality judgments, discuss their understanding/interpretation/acceptance of phrases produced by the researcher, without the use of a formal experimental protocol. See the Policy on Linguistic Consulting. "Elicitation" excludes any research in which individual responses to personal questions are reported, sociolinguistic interviews (which ask participants to describe personal experiences), and research involving instrumentation such as ultrasound and palatography. However, recording is permitted. As a general guideline, "elicitation" covers innocuous approaches to learning what a speaker knows about their language, approaches which cannot result in harm to them. Other forms of research may involve an unequal power relationship between the researcher and participant(s) and the participants must therefore be protected by oversight from the REB.


"Respect for human dignity requires that research involving humans be conducted in a manner that is sensitive to the inherent worth of all human beings and the respect and consideration that they are due. In [the TCPS], respect for human dignity is expressed through three core principles -- Respect for Persons, Concern for Welfare, and Justice." (TCPS 8)

The key to receiving approval for your research protocol from the DERC or REB is to clearly establish that you have established a process for informed consent which will assure that:

"individuals who participate in research should do so voluntarily, understanding the purpose of the research, and its risks and potential benefits, as fully as reasonably possible." (TCPS 27)

All researchers are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the University's Office of Research Ethics website. It contains lots of helpful information.

Language Elicitation

A researcher who wishes to begin a research project involving elicitation as the only form of data collection involving human participants should normally first consult with the DERC head to determine that their research does indeed fall within the bounds of what can be approved within the Department. Then the researcher should fill out the PDF iconLinguistics Consulting Form and submit it to the DERC head. Submission may be by email or hard copy.

  • The form should be submitted at least two weeks prior to the intended start of elicitation to give the committee time to respond thoughtfully and for the researcher to make any needed changes to the protocol. Research may not begin until the committee has approved the project and so indicated by signing the form. The DERC may only approve projects which pose minimal or moderate risk to the participant(s) and that fall under the Policy on Linguistic Consulting. Signed protocols are kept on file in the Department office. An annual report of them is submitted to the Office of Research Ethics.


A professor who wishes to begin a novel research project involving methods beyond elicitation should submit a research ethics protocol through the online system My Research Human Protocol (MRHP). Use your UTORid and password. You may find this User Guide helpful.“ [Instructions] You are welcome to consult with a DERC member about the process.

  • REB reviews are conducted according to specific deadlines and scheduled meetings of their committees, so ample time should be allowed.

Student Researchers

All student research must have a faculty supervisor.

Students should check whether their intended project is considered part of a project already covered by their supervisor's approved Ethics Protocol(s). In such a case, students do not need to submit a separate protocol, but must follow the terms of the existing protocol. Otherwise:

  • Graduate students
    • If the researcher is a graduate student working on a project that is not for a course, the processes specified above for faculty must be completed in consultation with their supervisor. A graduate student or post-doc who wishes to begin a novel research project involving methods beyond elicitation should submit a research ethics protocol through the online system My Research Human Protocol (MRHP). Use your UTORid and password. Note that a supervisor must initiate this process at least 24 hours before you can submit your protocol. You may find this User Guide helpful.
    • Graduate students who intend to conduct human participant research for a course or degree requirement should consult Ethics Review for Graduate Non-thesis Based Research before designing their studies.
  • Undergraduate students
    • In normal circumstances, undergraduate students' projects are overseen by the DERC. Please consult with the DERC head about this process, if you plan to conduct a research project that is not part of a course. Submit the Ethics Review Protocol Form to the DERC head.
  • Research as part of a course
    • A professor who requires a research project (involving human participants and practices which do not fall under "elicitation") to satisfy a graduate course requirement must complete a Graduate Course Ethics template (August 2012 version) and have it approved by the DERC prior to the beginning of the student's/students' research.
    • A professor who requires a research project to satisfy an undergraduate (or mixed undergraduate / graduate) course requirement must submit an Undergraduate Ethics Review Protocol Form and have it approved by the DERC prior to the beginning of the student's/students' research. Here, one additional restriction is that participants may not be children.
    • Students enrolled in these courses will follow the consent process outlined in the professor's approved protocol.

Tips for Protocols

  • Be clear and write for a non-linguist audience when communicating with the REB.
  • You may wish to explicitly mention in your protocol that standard practice in linguistics is to "keep data in a secure location forever," rather than destroying it after a certain number of years.
  • Mention possible outcomes of your project that you would like to have covered by your protocol. Mention them in your consent letter or script, as well as the protocol form, so that the participants are aware of where their data may appear. This might include possible future conference presentations or publications.
  • If you are contemplating research involving the First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples of Canada, please see Chapter 9 of the TCPS.
  • Approval is granted for a period of one year, by both the DERC and the REB. If the project will continue beyond that timeframe, a renewal must be requested and approved prior to the end of the one year period.
    • Amendments to REB-approved protocols, annual protocol renewal requests, study completion reports, and adverse/unanticipated event reports must  be submitted through the online system My Research Human Protocol (MRHP).
    • For a DERC-approved protocol, resubmit the form if your project will extend beyond one year.
  • If you find that you need to change your protocol after it is approved:

Useful References and Links

[TCPS] Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans, December 2010.

PDF iconPolicy on Linguistic Consulting

Research Ethics and Protections, University of Toronto

Ethics Forms

Linguistics DERC Committee 2019-23

  • Prof. Susana Béjar
    • Ethics forms should be submitted to
    • Please plan 10 business days for ethics approval and 5 business days for inquiries.

Page originally created by Naomi Nagy, 2012; updated 31 July 2023.