Stephen Pihlaja
/'stiːvən 'pihlaija/

Hi there, my name is Stephen and I'm an applied linguist, discourse analyst, and stylistician researching and teaching at Newman University in Birmingham (UK). I teach a suite of classes in the English subject group, focusing on the use of linguistic tools to study literature, language, and culture. My first book, Antagonism on YouTube was published by Bloomsbury in 2014 and my second book, Religious Talk Online was published this year on Cambridge University Press. I've also recently edited special issues of Language and Literature and Metaphor and the Social World and co-edited the Routledge Handbook of English Language Studies. I also am Head of the Newman University Humanities Research Centre and Book Reviews Editor for the Journal of Language and Discrimination

My own research focuses on the dynamics of discourse, or language in use, particularly in online interaction around religious issues. I analyse discourse to understand how people present themselves and their beliefs to diverse audiences, and how technology changes not just the presentation of belief, but how and what people believe. To do this, I employ different methods of discourse analysis to investigate metaphor, narrative positioning, categories, and impoliteness in interaction.

I am a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and most recently worked as a Primary Investigator on a Social Innovation Project funded by the Higher Education Funding Council called 'Let's Talk about Sex: equipping student leaders to address sexual violence on campuses'. 

I review articles for a variety of different publications, and serve as membership secretary for the Poetics and Linguistics Association (PALA) and the secretary for the University Council of General and Applied Linguistics (UCGAL). I am a regular member of the Researching and Applying Metaphor Association (RaAM) and the British Association of Applied Linguistics (BAAL).

Book Reviews Editor

02 August 2018

The Journal of Language and Discrimination has a new book review editor!

Handbook Published

27 June 2018

Our Routledge Handbook of English Language Studies has been finally published this week. Pick up your copy — or rather, have your library order a copy — from:


Dazed article

23 May 2018

Quoted in a Dazed article, using mild profanity:
I spoke to Stephen Pihlaja, another Applied Linguist. He told me that insulting someone to show affection is not new; in fact, “we all do it as a way to protect ourselves from being exposed to the hurt of saying that we care about someone and not having them respond in the way we’d hope. It’s much easier to call a your friend an asshat than to say ‘I appreciate you’. Like lots of stuff online, this gets amplified because you have both this access to incredibly famous people, but also the sense that they are unlikely to ever see what you tweet anyway.”
He added that, “fans are trying to get the attention of celebrities or to raise their own visibility, and being insulting or shocking is a good way to do that. It also has some of the elements of the defence mechanisms I mentioned. Being too big a fan of something might be seen negatively, so if you insult someone you like, you aren’t left out in the open in a way you might be if you said you loved them.”

Head of Research Centre

15 May 2018

In the upcoming academic year, I will be serving as Head of the Newman University Humanities Research Centre. Read more about the Centre here: https://www.newman.ac.uk/research/research-centres/humanities-research-centre/ We hope to be running a range of interesting events over the next year!