Recording session procedures

This page is an extension of the description published in Johnson, Babel, Fong, & Yiu (2020), and some of the text from the paper is reproduced verbatim.


Before coming to the session, all participants completed the UBC Linguistics department language background Qualtrics survey through their UBC Linguistics SONA account—a summary derived from participant responses is included in the corpus download, as is a copy of the survey questions.

During the recording session, participants spent approximately 90 minutes in the lab, and completed three tasks for each language (see below). Written informed consent was provided at the beginning of the session. The tasks were ordered from most structured to least structured.

The order of languages was counterbalanced—half completed the Cantonese interview first, and the other half completed the English interview first (this information is included in the participant summary file and file names, see below). Participants were given a break between interviews if they wanted one.

Recording setup

All of the recordings in the SpiCE corpus were created by two Cantonese-English bilingual research assistants, in a quiet room in Stores Road Annex at the University of British Columbia. The participant and research assistants were all seated around a table during the session—Nancy Yiu conducted the interviews, and Ivan Fong managed the recording process.

Tools & equipment

  • Audacity 2.2 (and above)
  • A PC laptop
  • Sound Devices USBPre2 Portable Audio Interface
  • AKG C520 head-mounted microphones (worn by Nancy and participant)
  • AKG headphones (worn by Ivan)


  • Stereo (L: participant, R: interviewer),
    • Note: one file was accidentally recorded in mono with just the participant
  • 44.1 KHz sampling rate (or higher, resampled for consistency)
  • 16-bit resolution (or higher, resampled for consistency)

Task 1: Sentences

Participants read a fixed set of sentences in each language, in the same order. Some sentences contain errors, and were not necessarily repeated.

The Cantonese sentences were Chinese New Year themed sentences that were expected to be familiar to participants. Participants were presented with Cantonese characters, Jyutping, and the English translation simultaneously. This was done, as not all participants were expected to be able to read in Cantonese.

Characters Jyutping English translations
1. 新年快樂 san1 lin4 faai3 lok6 Happy New Year
2. 恭喜發財 gung1 hei2 faat3 choi4 Congratulations on happiness and prosperity
3. 身體健康 san1 tai2 gin6 hong1 May your health be well
4. 快高長大 faai3 gou1 zoeng2 dai6 Grow quickly
5. 龍馬精神 lung4 ma5 zing1 san4 Have the spirit of the horse and dragon
6. 學業進步 hok6 yip6 zeon3 bou6 Progress in your education
7. 年年有餘 lin4 lin4 yau5 yue4 Excess in each year
8. 出入平安 cut1 yap6 ping4 on1 Leave and enter in safety
9. 心想事成 sam1 soeng2 si6 sing4 Accomplish that which is in your heart
10. 生意興隆 saang1 yi3 hing1 lung4 Have a prosperous business
11. 萬事如意 maan6 si6 yu4 yi3 A thousand things according to your will
12. 天天向上 tin1 tin1 hoeng3 soeng6 Upwards and onwards every day
13. 笑口常開 siu3 hau2 soeng4 hoi1 Laugh with an open mouth frequently
14. 大吉大利 daai6 gat1 daai6 lei6 Much luck and much prosperity
15. 五福臨門 mm5 fuk1 lam4 mun4 Five blessings for your household
16. 招財進寶 ziu1 coi4 zeon3 bou2 Seek wealth welcome in the precious
17. 盤滿砵滿 pun4 mun5 but3 mun5 Basins full of wealth

The English sentences include List 60 from the Harvard Sentences and some holiday-themed additions to better match the Cantonese sentences. Thirteen of the sentences are imperatives.

English sentence
1. Stop whistling and watch the boys march.
2. Jerk the cord, and out tumbles the gold.
3. Slide the tray across the glass top.
4. The cloud moved in a stately way and was gone.
5. Light maple makes for a swell room.
6. Set the piece here and say nothing.
7. Dull stories make her laugh.
8. A stiff cord will do to fasten your shoe.
9. Get the trust fund to the bank early.
10. Choose between the high road and the low.
11. Wish on every candle for your birthday.
12. Deck the halls with boughs of holly.
13. Ring in the new year with a kiss.
14. Have a spooky Halloween.
15. Enjoy the vacation with your loved ones.
16. Be filled with joy and peace during this time.
17. Relax on your holiday break.

Task 2: Storyboard

Participants narrated the same cartoon in both languages, usually in just a few minutes. The cartoon—Thank You Notes—was originally developed by Patrick Littell for linguistics field research and elicited vocabulary related to family members and simple gift-giving. While participants only viewed one panel at a time, here's what the cartoon looked like as a whole:


Task 3: Interview

The conversational interview accounted for the bulk of the session, and typically lasted around 25 minutes each. The interviews covered a variety of everyday topics such as culture, food, school, hobbies, and family. The sequence of topics with potential follow-up prompts and questions is available in the following documents. Note that the interviews were dynamic, in that the interviewer went along with what the participant wanted to discuss! As such, the content of interviews varies substantially.