Michael Toolan

Colleges, School and Institutes


My undergraduate degree was a four-year MA in English Language and Literature from Edinburgh University; from there I went to St John’s College, Oxford, and completed a DPhil on William Faulkner’s style. Then for six years I taught at the National University of Singapore, followed by nine years, latterly with tenure, at the University of Washington, Seattle.

I came to the University of Birmingham  in 1996, attracted by the lively community of English language researchers working here.  I have long nurtured a secondary interest in law and the power of language in all kinds of legal proceedings, and this led me to complete the Graduate Diploma in Legal Studies in 2000.  

From 2002 to 2020 I was editor of the Journal of Literary Semanticsand have served as Chair of the International Association for Literary Semantics.  In 2019 I completed a three-year term as Chair of the Poetics and Linguistics Association (pala.ac.uk). I am also quite involved in Integrational linguistics.  I retired from the University of Birmingham in 2020.

Research interests

My most recent research has been on how some of the UK news media have ‘normalized’ the increased wealth inequality that has harmed the UK in recent decades.  The research combines corpus linguistic and critical discourse analytical methods, and is the topic of my most recent book, The Language of Inequality in the News: A Discourse Analytic Approach (Cambridge University Press, 2018).  In narrative studies, my corpus stylistic study of short-story narratives appeared in 2016 from Routledge: Making sense of narrative text: situation, repetition, and mental picturing.