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Arthur Lewis Thompson

Post-Doctoral Research Fellow

Department of Linguistics, the University of Hong Kong

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Without imitating there is no learning. I am interested in how humans use imitation to express what we mean from a multimodal, cognitive, and phonological perspective. In particular, my research investigates how and why communicative imitation sounds or appears different from language to language, and to what extent such imitation is transparent or easily learnable in different contexts. I work with a variety of languages, such as Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Chaoyang (Southern Min), and Hong Kong Sign Language.

My PhD laid the groundwork for a methodology which allows one to phonologically identify and argue for semantic relations across ideophones from unrelated languages. Currently, I am collaborating with colleagues on a project which seeks to understand the interaction of hand gestures and guessing accuracy of ideophone meanings from different languages. Another project has us looking at longitudinal phonological acquisition of Hong Kong Sign Language by hearing adults, with a focus on iconic signs. Playing with new methodologies and trying out new experimental designs is how I express myself creatively in my academic work.

Research Interests

  • Iconicity

  • Phonology

  • Sign Language

  • Psycholinguistics

  • L1/L2 acquisition

  • Cognitive linguistics


  • 2019

    • Ph.D., Linguistics, the University of Hong Kong
      Thesis: Movement as meaning: an articulatory investigation into the iconicity of ideophones
      Supervisor: Dr Youngah Do

  • 2015

    • MPhil (Distinction), Linguistics,
      University of Cambridge, UK
      Thesis: L1 and L2 Perception of the Mandarin Neutral Tone (Distinction)
      Supervisor: Prof Francis Nolan

  • 2014

    • BA (First Class Honors), Chinese & Linguistics,
      SOAS, University of London, UK


Under Review

In Preparation

Peer Reviewed Proceedings Paper 

Thompson, Arthur Lewis*, Thomas Van Hoey*, Youngah Do, Mark Dingemanse. (2023). Iconicity in Ideophones:

Guessing, Memorizing, and Reassessing. Cognitive Science.
*co-first authors

Thompson, Arthur Lewis, May Pik Yu Chan, Ping Hei Yeung, and Youngah Do. (2022). Structural markedness and depiction: the case of lower sequential predictability in Cantonese ideophones. Mental Lexicon.

Thompson, Arthur Lewis, Thomas Van Hoey, and Youngah Do. (2021). Articulatory features of phonemes pattern to iconic meanings: evidence from cross-linguistic ideophones. Cognitive Linguistics (De Gruyter).

Van Hoey, Thomas & Arthur Lewis Thompson. (2020). The Chinese ideophone database (CHIDEOD).
Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale. DOI: https://doi-

Song, Yoonsang, Youngah Do, Arthur Lewis Thompson, Waegemaekers, Eileen R, Jongbong Lee. (2020).
Second language users exhibit shallow morphological processing. Studies in Second Language Acquisition. DOI:10.1017/S0272263120000170

Thompson, Arthur Lewis & Youngah Do. (2019). Unconventional spoken iconicity follows a conventional structure: evidence from demonstrations.

Speech Communication, 113, 36-46.


Thompson, Arthur Lewis & Youngah Do. (2019). Defining iconicity: an articulation-based methodology for explaining the phonological structure of ideophones.

Glossa: A Journal of General Linguistics, 4(1), 72.

Song, Yoonsang, Youngah Do, Jongbong Lee, Arthur Lewis Thompson, Waegemaekers, Eileen R. (2019). The reality of hierarchical morphological structure in multimorphemic words. Cognition, 183, 269-276.


Thompson, Arthur Lewis. (2018). Are tones in the expressive lexicon iconic? Evidence from three Chinese languages.
PLoS One, 13(12).

Thompson, Arthur Lewis. (2016). Who moo-ved my cow?
The lexicalization of onomatopoeia and imitative shift in Mandarin. Cambridge Occasional Papers in Linguistics, 9.

Thompson, Arthur Lewis, Youngah Do. (under review). Minimalism in depiction and structural simplicity:
fewer articulatory movements are preferred in the onsets of ideophones and non-ideophones. Mental Lexicon.


Thompson, Arthur Lewis, Bonnie McLean, John L. A. Huisman, Youngah Do. (in prep). Sensory and suitability ratings and guessing accuracy of manual gestures for Japanese ideophones.

Thompson, Arthur Lewis, Thomas Van Hoey, Aaron Wing Cheung Chik, Youngah Do & Mark Dingemanse. (in prep). Teasing apart the interplay between gesture, sound and meaning of ideophones through transmission and iterated learning.

Thompson, Arthur Lewis, Nicolas Collignon, Youngah Do. Articulatory features of phonemes pattern to iconic meanings: evidence from cross-linguistic ideophones. In A.K. Goel, C.M. Seifert, & C. Freksa (Eds.) , Proceedings of the 41st Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (CogSci 2019) (pp. 1104-1110). Montreal, QB: Cognitive Science Society.


Documenting Hong Kong Sign Language
Iconicity and the Phonological Acquisition of Hong Kong Sign Language

Link to related article by Language Development Lab, Department of Linguistics, HKU

Together with colleagues at HKU, I filmed 4 hearing students taking 1-on-1 HKSL lessons twice a week with a Deaf instructor (immersion) over the course of 12 weeks. I am currently investigating the interplay of iconicity and acquisition over time. I want to know if iconic signs are acquired faster and are retained better over time than non-iconic signs, among other factors such as articulation and semantics. This rich documentary nature of this L2 acquisition dataset will be the basis for a number of collaborative papers to come.

figure of nine pictures of iconic hand gestures
Ideophones and Iconic Hand Gestures

Ideophones frequently co-occur with iconic hand gestures
in natural speech. I am currently part of several guessing
and iterated learning studies to see whether or not and
to what extent iconic hand gestures render ideophones semantically transparent.

Documenting Hong Kong Hakka
Shakou Hakka spoken in
Northern Guangdong Province

I have set up an ongoing project with Dr Havenhill and
HKU postgraduate students interested in ultrasound methods
to investigate the lateral occlusivization (i.e., /ldi/ 脷 “tongue”) and prenasalized stops (i.e., /mbu/ 霧 “fog” and /nggu/ 魚 “fish”) in Shakou Hakka, spoken in Yingde County of Guangdong Province. These phonetic phenomena are no longer attested in surrounding Hakka varieties and the variable nature of their realization in Shakou leads us to believe that Shakou

is currently undergoing sound change. Our aim is to document that change and understand how and under what conditions it is taking place.

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