Dr Gareth Carrol BA, BSc, MA, PhD

Photograph of Dr Gareth Carrol

Department of English Language and Linguistics
Senior Lecturer in Psycholinguistics

Contact details

Frankland Building
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

I am a senior lecturer in psycholinguistics, with a particular interest in idiomatic and formulaic language in native and non-native speakers.


  • PhD English, University of Nottingham
  • MA Applied Linguistics, University of Nottingham
  • BSc Human Communication, De Montfort University
  • BA Language and Linguistics, University of York


I joined the department of English Language and Linguistics in January 2016. Prior to this I completed my MA and PhD at the University of Nottingham, where I became interested in psycholinguistics in general and idioms in particular. I was also involved in a number of research projects using eye-tracking to explore literary reading and other aspects of language processing.

I hold undergraduate degrees in Language and Linguistics (University of York) and Human Communication: Speech and Language Therapy (De Montfort University), which have given me a very broad knowledge of language, and in particular expertise and interest in clinical linguistics and language disorders.


I currently teach on the second year undergraduate module Psycholinguistics, the third year undergraduate model Clinical Linguistics, and the MA module Vocabulary and Phraseology.

Postgraduate supervision

I am keen to hear from students interested in conducting research on idioms and formulaic language, as well as other aspects of phraseology, and on figurative language more generally. This includes processing and representation in first and second languages, the development of figurative competence in second language speakers, and the ways in which linguistic and cultural knowledge contribute to how people make sense of metaphorical and extended uses of words and phrases.

Please contact me to discuss any ideas you may have. As my research tends to be experimental, I would encourage any potential applicants to think about the ways in which psycholinguistic techniques might form a key part of your project.

Find out more - our PhD English Language and Applied Linguistics  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.


My research looks at how language users understand idioms and other types of figurative phrase, such as conventional metaphors. My work has focused on the factors that influence processing and comprehension in native and non-native speakers, including aspects such as familiarity, transparency and context. I have also looked at cross-language effects in how idioms are recognised and understood in a series of studies on Chinese and Swedish learners of English. I am interested in extending this work to consider the effects of different cognitive variables such as working memory on how language users make sense of both known and unknown figurative phrases, as a way of better understanding the changes that might be seen in healthy aging and pathological conditions such as dementia or aphasia.

I am also interested in formulaic language more generally, and have conducted several studies to explore the processing advantage for frequent phrases such as binomials (black and white, salt and pepper), where word order is highly conventionalised.

My work uses experimental techniques such as eye-tracking, which is an invaluable tool in the study of reading comprehension. I also use other methodologies such as reaction times and offline techniques (ratings and speaker judgements) to build a detailed picture of how language users process language at the multiword level.

Other activities

I act as the eye-tracking lab manager for the Department of English Language and Linguistics.


Recent publications


Carrol, G 2022, Jumping Sharks and Dropping Mics: Modern idioms and where they come from. Iff Books. <https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/iff-books/our-books/jumping-sharks-dropping-mics-modern-idioms>

Conklin, K, Pellicer-Sanchez, A & Carrol, G 2018, Eye-Tracking: A Guide for Applied Linguistics Research. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.


Carrol, G & Segaert, K 2023, 'As easy as cake or a piece of pie? Processing idiom variation and the contribution of individual cognitive differences', Memory and Cognition. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13421-023-01463-x

Carrol, G 2023, 'Old dogs and new tricks: assessing idiom knowledge amongst native speakers of different ages', Journal of Psycholinguistic Research. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10936-023-09996-7

Sonbul, S, El-Dakhs, DAS, Conklin, K & Carrol, G 2022, '“Bread and butter” or “butter and bread”? Nonnatives’ processing of novel lexical patterns in context', Studies in Second Language Acquisition. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0272263122000237

Conklin, K & Carrol, G 2021, 'Words go together like ‘bread and butter’: The rapid, automatic acquisition of lexical patterns', Applied Linguistics, vol. 42, no. 3, pp. 492-513. https://doi.org/10.1093/applin/amaa034

Carrol, G & Conklin, K 2020, 'Is all formulaic language created equal? Unpacking the processing advantage for different types of formulaic sequences', Language and Speech, vol. 63, no. 1, pp. 95-122. https://doi.org/10.1177/0023830918823230

Castano, E & Carrol, G 2020, 'Mental Simulation in the Processing of Literal and Metaphorical Motion Language: an Eye Movement Study', Metaphor and Symbol, vol. 35, no. 3, pp. 153-170. https://doi.org/10.1080/10926488.2020.1794318

Carrol, G & Littlemore, J 2020, 'Resolving figurative expressions during reading: the role of familiarity, transparency and context', Discourse Processes, vol. 57, no. 7, pp. 609-626. https://doi.org/10.1080/0163853X.2020.1729041

Findlay, H & Carrol, G 2019, 'Contributions of semantic richness to the processing of idioms', The Mental Lexicon, vol. 13, no. 3, pp. 311-332. https://doi.org/10.1075/ml.18014.fin

Parente, F, Conklin, K, Guy, J, Carrol, G & Scott, R 2019, 'Reader expertise and the literary significance of small-scale textual features in prose fiction', Scientific Study of Literature, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 3.

Carrol, G, Littlemore, J & Dowens, M 2018, 'Of false friends and familiar foes: comparing native and non-native understanding of figurative phrases', Lingua, vol. 204, pp. 21-44. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lingua.2017.11.001

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

Carrol, G 2021, Psycholinguistic approaches to figuration. in A Soares da Silva (ed.), Figurative Language – Intersubjectivity and Usage. Figurative Thought and Language, vol. 11, John Benjamins, pp. 307-338. https://doi.org/10.1075/ftl.11.10car

Conklin, K & Carrol, G 2018, First language influence on the processing of formulaic language in a second language. in A Siyanova-Chanturia & A Pellicer-Sanchez (eds), Understanding Formulaic Language. A Second Language Acquisition Perspective.. Routledge, New York, pp. 62-77.

Featured article

Carrol, G 2019, 'The changing face of English idioms' Babel: The Language Magazine, vol. 26, pp. 21-25. <https://cloud.3dissue.com/18743/41457/106040/26/index.html>

View all publications in research portal