I was born in Falkirk, Scotland, in 1952. I attended Wallacestone Primary School, Falkirk High School, and in 1970, the Helmholtz Gymnasium, Karlsruhe.
I graduated with an MA with 2.1 Honours in English Language and Literature with German from the University of Edinburgh in 1975, and with a PhD in English Language from the University of Sheffield in 1987. My thesis was entitled Aspects of the Grammar in a Corpus of Dramatic Texts in Scots, submitted in 1986. In 2000, I added a Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education Teaching (PGCertHET) from Queen's University Belfast.
My first position was as a Lektor in the Englisches Seminar at the Rheinische Friedrich-Universität Bonn (1975–78), where I attended various Hauptseminare and Oberseminare and Graduate Kolloquien. From 1978–82, I was a Junior Research Fellow in English Language at the University of Sheffield, where I did my PhD. In 1983 I was appointed as a Lecturer in English at Queen's University Belfast, and in 2001 as Senior Lecturer in English and Scottish Language, a position I held until 2013. During my career at Queen's I held Visiting Professorships at the University of Georgia (1990), University of Michigan (1991), Freie Universität Berlin (2005), Technische Universität Dresden (2009, 2011 and 2014), and Technische Universität Chemnitz (2011).
In 2015-2016 I was Senior Research Fellow in Anglistische Sprachwissenschaft and Gastprofessor at the Technische Universität Dresden. Since the Spring of 2018, I have been a (full) Professor of English Linguistics at the University of Vienna.
In addition, 1982–82, I was a Sales Representative for Northern Europe for Harcourt Brace Jovanovich & Academic Press, London; and from 1981–82, I was a Research Associate at the Centre for English Cultural Tradition and Language, University of Sheffield and, from 2004, a Research Associate at the Institute of Irish Studies, Queen's University Belfast.
In 2003, I was short-listed candidate for the UNESCO Linguapax Prize, awarded annually by the UNESCO Linguapax Institute in Barcelona.