I teach and research in Stylistics and Narrative Analysis at the University of Birmingham where I am Head of the Division of English Language and Applied Linguistics. I am editor of the Journal of Literary Semantics.


Short Biography

michael toolanWelcome! I am Professor of English Language and currently Head of the Division of English Language and Applied Linguistics, at the University of Birmingham, where I chiefly teach courses in Stylistics and Narrative Analysis, convene the MA programme in Literary Linguistics, and supervise research students working in those areas.

I am a member of the AHRC Peer Review College and have served as a member of the AHRC panel reviewing English research funding applications.

Video of a recent talk given at City University, Hong Kong on the topic of Literary Creativity and Repetition, given during the 3rd International Roundtable on Discourse Analysis: Discourse and Creativity can be found on the City University YouTube page.

For further details of recent conference talks, plenary lectures, and publications, see my fuller cv. In particular I have posted below some of my more recent papers, giving an indication of my range of research interests.

Recent Papers

Here are links to a selection of my more recent talks, journal articles or contributions to books:

'I don't know what they're saying half the time, but I'm hooked on the series': incomprehensible dialogue and integrated multimodal characterisation in The Wire.' PDF

"Lost and found in the reading machine" PDF
Foreword (7000 words) for Literary Education and Digital Learning: Methods and Technologies for Humanities Studies edited by Drs. Willie van Peer, Sonia Zyngier, and Vander Viana .S. Zyngier, W. van Peer and Vander Viana, Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2010: x-xxiv.

"The texture of emotionally-immersive passages in short stories: steps towards a tentative local grammar." PDF

"His wife had died. So he was visiting the dead wife's relatives in Connecticut"; "Son épouse était morte. Alors il venait dans le Connecticut, voir sa famille á elle" : repetition and verbal art in "Cathedral" and 'Cathédrale' PDF
Colloque Nouvelles stylistiques europeennes ; Universite de Bourgogne-Dijon, Jeudi 24 mars, 2011

"John McGahern's stylistic and narratological art." PDF
with N. Norgaard, B.Busse and D.McIntyre, 15,000 word joint paper. Lexis 5 Special issue on lexicology and stylistics. (2010) 101-131.

Narrative Progression in the Short Story:First Steps in a Corpus Stylistic Approach PDF

Narrative Coherence WORD
An encyclopaedia article draft version.

The intrinsic importance of sentence-type and clause-type to narrative effect PDF
Or, how Alice Munro's "Circle of Prayer" gets started.

The 'Irresponsibility' of FID WORD PDF

Verbal Art: Through Repetition to Immersion WORD

What do poets show and tell linguists? WORD
(Copenhagen Linguistics and Poetics Symposium).

Assessing Written Language - Just more grubby verbal hygiene? WORD

Pressures on and from English Legal Terms in Global Contexts WORD
Recontextualization of concepts in European legal discourse.

Postgraduate Research Supervision

I am interested in supervising students for research degrees (M Phil or Ph D) in the following fields of interest: stylistics (including corpus stylistics), narrative analysis (both literary and sociolinguistic approaches), and integrational linguistics.  My new book on Narrative Progression (Benjamins, 2009) reflects some of my current stylistic interests.  I am also interested in researching the 'identity' narratives of teenagers who are borderline between proceeding to university or to full-time employment, and the personal narratives of both active and physically inactive older people (and the impact of such narratives on perceptions of ageing).  

If you are interested in pursuing a research degree under my supervision in any of the above areas, please email me.  Official application can be made by going to the University's Postgraduate pages, accessible via this link.

Conferences & Associations

Professor Toolan is a founding member of the International Association for the Integrational Study of Language and Communication (IAISLC) and editor of the Journal of Literary Semantics, published by Walter de Gruyter.

Founded by Trevor Eaton in 1972 and edited by him for thirty years, the Journal of Literary Semantics is an international peer-reviewed journal, published in two volumes per year, which promotes research into the relations between linguistics and literature. It is particularly addressed to linguists, narratologists, poeticians, philosophers and psycholinguists. JLS publishes articles on all aspects of literary semantics.

The ambit is inclusive rather than doctrinaire. The journal publishes articles of an analytical kind that attempt to advance our understanding of the structures, dynamics, and significations of literary texts. This includes work that relates the study of literature to other disciplines such as linguistics, psychology, cognition, and history, as well as articles dealing with the educational demands inherent in the study of literature. Suitable submissions are warmly welcomed, as are preliminary email enquiries concerning scope and suitability.

Hosted Conferences

3rd Conference of the IAISLC: Language Teaching and Integrational Linguistics, Birmingham, 5-7 July 2004

3rd International Association for Literary Semantics Conference, Birmingham, 7-9 April 2002

22nd Poetics and Linguistics Association (PALA) Conference, Birmingham, 4-6 April 2002

BAAL/CUP-sponsored seminar on "Integrational Linguistics and Systemic-Functional Linguistics: Prospects of Dialogue?" Birmingham, 21 May 2001

Narrative Progression in the Short Story: A corpus stylistic approach

One of our most valuable capacities is our ability partly to predict what will come next in a text. But linguistic understanding of this remains very limited, especially in genres such as the short story where there is a staging of the clash between predictability and unpredictability. This book proposes that a matrix of narrativity-furthering textual features is crucial to the reader's forming of expectations about how a literary story will continue to its close. Toolan uses corpus linguistic software and methods, and stylistic and narratological theory, in the course of delineating the matrix of eight parameters that he sees as crucial to creating narrative progression and expectation. The book will be of interest to stylisticians, narratologists, corpus linguists, and short story scholars.

Language Teaching: Integrational Linguistic Approaches

Language Teaching demonstrates the relevance of an integrational linguistic perspective to a practical, real-world need, namely the learning of languages. Integrational linguistics' shunning of both realist and structuralist theories of language, its commitment to an unwavering attention to the perspective of the language user, and its adherence to a semiology in which signs are the situated products of interactants interpretive behaviour, mean that it radically reconceptualizes language learning and language teaching.

Critical Discourse Analysis: Critical Concepts in Linguistics

This unique, multidisciplinary collection gathers together the most influential writings adopting a CDA approach, along with the most important antecedent essays and articles from the earlier Twentieth Century. The articles that make up this collection are drawn from a wide range of journal sources, including articles critical of the Critical Discourse Analysis approach as well as those that illustrate applications of its principles and methods. A detailed index and new introduction will help the reader navigate this wealth of diverse material.

The Writer's Craft, the Culture's Technology

Edited (with Introduction) by Carmen Rosa Caldas-Coulthard and Michael Toolan

All fifteen papers collected in this volume, from an international array of experts in literary stylistics, explore the multiple ways in which a culture's technological affordances shape its literary productions. Many of the papers focus on contemporary culture, where literature vies for attention with film, the internet, and other multimodal cultural forms.

Narrative: A Critical Linguistic Introduction

Narrative explores a range of written, spoken, literary and non-literary narratives. It shows what systematic attention to language can reveal about the narratives themselves, their tellers, and those to whom they are addressed. Topics examined include plot structure, time manipulations, point of view, oral narratives and children's stories.

Language in Literature: An Introduction to Stylistics

How does language work? And how does the language in literature create its effects? How can you tell good writing - the excellent, the brilliant, and the ingenious - from bad writing - the weak, the banal, and the confusing?

Total Speech: An Integrational Linguistic Approach to Language

Units, rules, codes, systems: this is how most linguists study language. Integrationalists such as Michael Toolan, however, focus instead on how language functions in seamless tandem with the rest of human activity. In Total Speech, Toolan provides a clear and comprehensive account of integrationalism, a major new theory of language that declines to accept that text and context, language and world, are distinct and stable categories.