Michael Toolan – Narrative Theories
Michael Toolan is an Edinburgh University educated professor of English Language and Literature at Birmingham University. While teaching for several years with focus on the English language, the distinctive professor has engaged in authorship and publication of several literary materials aimed at improving the learning capability of The English language in many of its contexts (Toolan, 2016). Through his work, the professor has dwelled on the subjects of oral presentations, narratives and poetry, while delving into the process of analyzing them, the key aspects that constitute the various concepts of analysis and the application of theories to analysis of literary pieces. Professor Toolan has published many books, particularly on the linguistic characteristics of various forms of works such as poems and short stories. As the focal point of the present study, the works of Professor Toolan with focus on the narrative will be discussed i.e. their proposed theories and the relevance of those theories in the contemporary works. The outcome will be used for the analysis of various interview excerpts in the context of the interview.
- Description of theory
Michael Toolan, through his various works proposes a theory of narrative development based on particular features. According to his theory, narrative development can be understood through analysis of the concepts of expectation and prospection. He proposes a structural stylistic method of narrative analysis which involves consideration of various factors considered as constituting a well formulated narrative. To understand whether a piece of work is a narrative or has undergone the complete narrative development cycle, Michael Toolan defines expectation as the attitude of the audience to the work, characterized by the desire to comprehend the eventualities in the narrative presentation, whether oral or written (2009). Any piece of work projects such expectations through stylistic ingredients of narration such as presentation gaps, suspense, and mystery. In the development of his theory, Toolan mentions factors such as use of names where pronouns could function effectively as examples of how the core ingredients could be used to create expectation in the audience (Huisman, 2011).
While expounding on the concept of narration in the development of presentations, the author also discusses how the corpus linguistic awareness approach and the Gricean approach to narrative analysis can be used together to build the foundations of a narrative (Toolan, 2009). According to the author, the two approaches used together build each other rather than destroying the presentations of the other. The corpus linguistic awareness approach discussed involves the use of various characteristics to determine the effectiveness of narration. From this perspective, the narrative is characterized by the presence of the tale, teller and the addressee. The addressee in the narrative has to trust the teller of the narrative in order for communication to be successful. Moreover, the initialization of a narrative is characterized by the use of verbs such as ‘know’ and ‘think’ which prompt the addressee to think about possibilities of the coming information (Toolan, 2008). Other characteristics of narration from this perspective include repetition of key words, future orientation, presence of negation clauses such as don’t and not which indicate the desire to comprehend more of what the teller is giving (Toolan, 1988). Each narrative also has a trajectory and the content is either pre-seen or pre-heard.
From the theory developed by Michael Toolan, it is difficult to define and classify communication as narratives after considering the available characteristics. It is therefore possible to use the characterization given by Toolan as a form of structural linguistic awareness procedure for the characterization of interviews as narratives (1988). Besides, the characterization proposed by Toolan, Labov (2013) also describes the key concepts in narrative development. This can be used in combination with the theory of expectations and prospection to advance in narration analysis.
III. Description of method
In most of the works by Michael Toolan, the corpus linguistic awareness approach to narrative development is used to critically analyze the narratives for expectation and prospects. This study tries to emulate the same method in analyzing an excerpt from an interview with two groups of participants. Toolan collected data through the collection of pre-published works such as books, and poetry and using them to exemplify the application of his proposed theories as he compared them with other theories. Through his examples, Michael managed to show exactly how the aspects of expectation and prospection can be used to describe the oral and literary features of narratives and how conclusions can be drawn on the existence of narratives. In the works based on various texts by various authors, Toolan carried out in-depth analyses which focused on the subjects of narration.
In the present research, a similar approach was taken to complete the analysis of a narrative type interview, presented in two excerpts. The interviews to be used were recorded during pair work with low proficiency English speakers from Saudi Arabia and Lebanon and another from high proficiency English speakers from England and Australia. Based on the observed and heard features of the interview presentations, the objective was to determine whether the interview excerpts exemplify the characteristics of narration or not. The interview process was carried out while audio recorded for the purpose of later analysis. The interviews were not exactly as expected with the researcher asking questions and the respondents giving answers. The respondents were divided into two groups, one comprising of low proficiency speakers and another comprising of high proficiency English speakers. Each of the pairs was then given a task to complete, where they were expected to enter into a discussion about their activities, countries of origin and pass time activities.
Despite collecting sufficient data to apply in testing the theories of Michael Toolan, the key limitations of the study involved its inability to effectively delve into the finer details of Michael Toolan’s theories. Moreover, the study focused on very few key concepts of the narrative development process as described by Michael Toolan due to the little time that was available for carrying out the study. Consequently, it cannot be said that whatever is presented herein is conclusive in terms of describing Toolan’s theory as well as applying them to the interview data. In addition to this, the methods applied in this study, may not be exactly as described by Michael Toolan since the information is drawn from various sources and application is based on the evaluation of the effectiveness of various combinations of theories for the definition of narratives.
- Data Analysis/ Conclusion
The interview analysis process involved the consideration of the two interview excerpts from the points of view of Michael Toolan’s theory involving expectations and prospection and from the point of view of the features described by various Labov (2013). The excerpt from non- native English speakers clearly gives an outlook characteristic of the narrative. The presence of the teller, the tale and the addressee all constitute key characteristics of the narrative. Being pair work, both participants, coded N and B participate in equal measure as tellers and addressees. The tale also revolves around the experiences of both the teller and the addressee, characterized by prompts, presence of negation words and prospection which draw the reader towards expecting more from the communication. Another essential feature of the narrative is the presence of non-randomly connected events such as the stories about different countries and experiences in terms of foods. The presence of the non- randomly connected events form an important aspect of narratives. Such connections also bring about the expectation of the audience who naturally desire to know the outcome of events.
Besides, the random connection of events, the communication portrayed through excerpt 1 indicates the presence of a particular trajectory to the communication. Despite being unclear from the onset and also ending abruptly, the presence of the trajectory is evidenced through the clarity of prompts for participation by the two partners. The partners involved ask questions, report on their ignorance and provide information regarding what their thoughts are. Verbs such as think and know which signal the initialization of narration also prevail in the interview, with the participants using them as keys to initiating new discussions on other topics. While using the structural outlook proposed by Michael Toolan, the excerpt presents several key features of narration and can be said to be conclusively narrative.
Contrary to expectations from the audience, the excerpt from the interview involving native English speakers presents limited characteristics of narration as described by Toolan’s theory (Toolan, 2009). Features such as the presence of core ingredients such as mystery and suspense which constitute effective narration are not evident in the interview excerpt. However, based on the description of Labov (2013) and Toolan (1988) the interview participants have managed to create expectation through the presence of communication gaps, seen through the questions asked and the missing answers in some of the sentences. Consequently, the structural analysis method that is mentioned by Toolan in describing a fully formed narrative in terms of the presentation can be used in critically analyzing the interview excerpt (1999).
Through prompts such as “mmmh… but, maybe the Arabic food is too spicy for you,” the audience is motivated to want to hear more regarding the addresses opinion concerning the spicy Arabic foods. Such prompts when used adequately in any piece of literary presentation bring out a certain degree of thirst for more, which is the objective of narrations. Apart from this, the conversation has a particular trajectory, as opposed to the first excerpt where the conversation moves back and forth. The second excerpt presents a pair of individuals who are aware of the focal point of their conversation and who give it a particular direction through questioning, answering and asking for clarification. All these form essential features of a short story narrative as described by Toolan. When applying the opinion of Labov to this analysis, the development features of narratives are found to complement the theories developed by Toolan rather than going contrary to them. It can therefore be said that while the conversation between the non- native speakers presents a narrative characterized by lack of structure and clarity, the second conversation effectively fits the description given by Toolan in defining the narrative from the perspective of expectation and prospection.
Huisman, R. (2011). A Review of Michael Toolan’s, Narrative Progression in the Short Story, a corpus stylistic approach. Linguistics and the Human Sciences.
Labov, W. (2013). “A Structural Analysis of Narratives”. Marie Agnes gay University Press
Toolan, M. (2001). Narrative: A Critical Linguistic Introduction 2nd Ed. Psychology Press.
Toolan, M. (1999). New Work on Deixis in Narrative, In P. Verdonk, et al. (eds) Transcending Boundaries: narratology in Context. Tubingen: Gunter Narr, 147-163.
Toolan, M. (2008). “Narrative Progression in the Short Story: First Steps in a Corpus Stylistic Approach”. Narrative, 16,2.
Toolan, M. (2009). Narrative Progression in the Short Story, a corpus stylistic approach. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Toolan, M. (2016). Professor Michael Toolan, MA, D. Phil, GDL. University of Birmingham. Retrieved from http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/profiles/elal/toolan-michael.aspx