Short biography

Welcome! I am an Emeritus (retired) Professor of English Language at the University of Birmingham, where for twenty-five years I taught courses in Stylistics and Narrative Analysis, convened the MA programme in Literary Linguistics, and supervised research students working in those areas.  For several years I was involved in management and administration, including a year as Head of the School (of English Language, Literature, Creative Writing, Drama, and the Shakespeare Institute).  My most recent academic book analysed changes in the representation of UK wealth inequality in two national newspapers (The Daily Mail and The Times) across the period 1971-2011.

Some papers

Two Stylistic ones on the role of lexical repetition in short poems, both for volumes edited by Rodney Jones.  One of these volumes, where I discuss Heaney’s ‘St Kevin and the Blackbird’, came out in 2012:

Toolan, M. (2012) ‘Poems: wonderfully repetitive’, in R. Jones (ed.) Discourse and Creativity, 17–34, London: Pearson.

The second, in which inter alia I discuss Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘At the Fishhouses’ appeared in 2015:

Toolan, M. (2015) ‘Poetry and poetics’, in R. Jones (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Language and Creativity, 231-247, London: Routledge.

Here you can find Abstracts describing these papers.

Alice Munro

My latest essay on Alice Munro looks at her early story, ‘A Trip to the Coast’, which appeared in her first collection, Dance of the Happy Shades.  The essay appeared in a special issue of Etudes de Stylistique Anglaise (ESA) 2015, edited by Manuel Jobert and me, of stylistic essays by various hands on the stories in that collection.  Here is the Abstract for that paper.


I have written a paper on ‘Musical Narrativity’, which discusses the extent to which strictly instrumental classical sonatas and symphonies can be usefully regarded, for some listeners, as telling a story with characters and events. This appeared in 2015 in Narrative Sequence in Contemporary Narratology, edited by Raphael Baroni and Francoise Revaz, published by the Ohio State University Press.  This paper does not have an Abstract, but here is one of the final paragraphs from it, to give a flavour of the discussion.

An article on ‘Narrative and narrative structure’ also appeared in 2015 as Chapter 15 of the Routledge Handbook of Linguistics, edited by Keith Allan.  The chapter includes a largely Labovian analysis of a lovely oral narrative of childhood experience from an older Glaswegian informant.  Abstract here.

Here are links to a selection of talks, articles or contributions to books:

Here is my ten-page Afterword to a special issue of the journal Language and Literature (2014, 23: 1) on Narrative, that was guest-edited by Marina Lambrou with articles by Paul Simpson, Jim Phelan, Catherine Belsey, Ruth Page, Gerald Prince, and Marina Lambrou.

The following study of dialogue in The Wire appeared in R. Piazza, M. Bednarek, & F. Rossi, Eds., Telecinematic Discourse: Approaches to the language of films and television series (John Benjamins: Amsterdam 2011).

‘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.

Associations and journals

I have been 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 talk given a few years ago 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.

To listen to the wonderful readings of distinguished writers whom I have recently hosted in our ‘Creative Minds’ series at Birmingham (Jamie McKendrick and Bernard MacLaverty), go to this link (scrolling to the bottom)


Or go here for Michael Longley’s reading.

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.