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What is meta language ?

  1. Apr 24, 2009 #1
    what is "meta language"?

    Hello everyone

    I have a BA in English literature and I'm specialising now in translation and linguistics ..
    recently I came a cross some terms such as "meta language" , and "metafunctional components of the language", and I did not get what exactly they refer to.

    so could anybody please help me??

    best regards
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 30, 2009 #2
    Re: what is "meta language"?

    You can look up the meaning of the the prefix "meta". In my opinion it seems to be pretentiously tacked onto a lot of words to create overly sophisticated concepts that obscure, rather than elucidate things.

    Googling I found: "meta-joke", and this seemed the be the easiest "meta" to understand: a joke about jokes:


    If you get what a "Meta-Joke" is, then you can read the entry on the prefix itself:


    Then you can tackle "Metalanguage", which I am not sure is a very useful concept, but I suppose you should try and figure out what people are referring to when they use it:

  4. Apr 30, 2009 #3


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    Re: what is "meta language"?

    can you provide a quote of how it was used?
  5. May 1, 2009 #4
    Re: what is "meta language"?

    thanks alot

    Maybe based on the meaning of meta-joke, I can understnad "meta language" as: the language that explains the language ... or linguisitic issues in the language ..
    I'm not sure; does it make any sense?

    but still depending on the meaning of the prefix "meta" I could not infer what "meta functional" means

    thanks alot for your help .. I guess I will do more reading on that
  6. May 1, 2009 #5


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    Re: what is "meta language"?

    Yes, a "meta-sentence" is a sentence about sentences, a "meta-language" is a language about languages, etc. Human beings are so good at understanding such concepts that they seem natural to us -- we hardly even notice the "meta" in the first place.

    - Warren
  7. May 1, 2009 #6


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    Re: what is "meta language"?

    Simple examples of meta-language might be:
    grammar, syntax, tense, voice object-subject agreement, etc.

    There is a whole list of concepts and definitions (indeed, a whole language) that is used to define language.

    So, a meta-function is a function that helps define functions. (So I wonder if concepts such as equal, not equal and greater than are all meta-functions?)
  8. May 1, 2009 #7
    Re: what is "meta language"?

    okay here you go ..

    " ... In the process of developing the language, the child has obviously been internalising the formal means his language provides for expressing metafunctional meanings ..."

    " Even a pre-school child will have some more conscious understandings and may have developed the first beginnings of a METALANGUAGE with which to talk about language."

    " Probably almost all these simple 'technical' terms for talking about aspects of language will have evolved just as naturally as any other area of the lexis, without adult or child feeling that they are marked out in any way. This is worth mentioning because teachers very often feel that a linguistic metalanguage does constitute a special case."
  9. Jun 6, 2009 #8


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    Re: what is "meta language"?

    I have no idea what a metafunctional meaning could be.

    A metalanguage will contain the means to talk about language, perhaps including itself. If you have experience with formal languages (e.g., from studying logic or programming), it might be easier to appreciate the significance of this. Not every language has this property. It is an additional level of abstraction and might allow for self-reference. For the speaker, it suggests a level of self-awareness. As an example, think of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Use%E2%80%93mention_distinction" [Broken] might also be of interest.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  10. Apr 1, 2010 #9
    Re: what is "meta language"?

    Lakhoff and Johnson's book, "Metaphors We Live By" launched a broader study of cognitive linguistics (see "Philosophy in the Flesh" for example) in which everyday metaphors in language provide evidence to how cognition works generally.

    An example would be how more and better are described using the direction "up," while less and worse are associated with "down" in phrases like "this is getting me down" or "the stock market is up" etc. The reason given is that there is a tangable physical experience associated with these language terms, such as the fact that a pile gets higher as it grows, and having more of something is usually better and associated with happiness compared with having less (smaller pile). Of course there are many examples you can find to contradict this logic, but it does provide a good reason why language works this way and the relationship between material-physical experience and cognition.

    Meta in "metaphor" refers to "with" or "across," I think, in the sense that a metaphor describes one thing in terms of another. In other words, it compares two different things across differences in meaning. So it is a form of cognitive synthesis that underpins most language-based knowledge, I think.

    Metaphysics is similar, I think, in that it deals with the meanings extracted from physical things to an abstract level. The example I think of is when the word "light" is used in the sense of knowledge or consciousness of something. Physically, light enables you to see something that would be hidden in the dark - but the exact same logic applies to a secret "coming out into the light" etc. So there is a connection between something physical and something abstract.

    I don't know if this helps or detracts from the issue of the OP, but I have always considered meta- connection very fundamental to knowledge, in the sense I understand them, which is admittedly informal.
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