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Language: Linguistics · Semiotics · Speech

Metalinguistics is the branch of linguistics that studies language and its relationship to culture and society. It is the study of dialogue relationships between units of speech communication as manifestations and enactments of co-existence. The neologism 'metalinguistics' emerged between 1950 and 1960. 1


Jean Émile Gombert, who teaches genetic psychology at the University of Dijon, states that it is one thing to find an adequate way of treating the comprehension and production of language and it is quite another to succeed in adopting a reflexive attitude with regard to language objects and their manipulation. It is this second task that a recently developed psycholinguistic tradition has given the name metalinguistics.1 Linguist Noam Chomsky defines the field of metalinguistics as the subject's knowledge of the characteristics and functioning of language or, from a more functionalist perspective, of its structure, its functioning and its usage.1 The relevant psychological description cannot be made in the abstract. It requires that researchers and theorists widen their focus to the point where they can embrace the significance of behavioral acts in the cognitive context of subjects who perform them. French linguist Jules Gilliéron wrote: 'All awareness is necessarily "meta" from the point of view of the observer. It bears not on the real but on the intelligibility of the real.'1

Literacy Development

Metalinguistic skills involve amplified and logical understanding of the rules used to govern language. Scholar Patrick Hartwell points out how substantial it is for students to develop these capabilities, especially heightened phonological awareness, which is a key precursor to literacy. 3 An essential aspect to language development is focused on the student being aware of language and the components of language.

This idea is also examined in the article Metalinguistic Awareness and Literacy Acquisition in Different Languages 4 that centers on how the construction of a language and writing strategy shape an individual's ability to read. It also discusses the manner in which bilingualism increases particular elements of metalinguistic awareness.

Published research studies by Elizabeth McAllister have concluded that metalinguistic abilities are associated to cognitive development and is contingent on metalinguistic awareness which relates to reading skill level, academic success and cultural environment that starts at infancy and continues through preschool.

According to Text in Education and Society, some examples of in the development of metalinguistic skills include includes discussing, examining, thinking about language, grammar and reading comprehension. The text also states that a student's recognition or self correction of language in verbal and written form helps them further advance their skills. The book also illustrates manners in which literature can form connections or create boundaries between educational intelligence and practical knowledge.

Gail T. Gillion wrote the book Phonological Awareness which illustrates the connection between phonological awareness and metalinguistic awareness's in literacy learning. It essentially states the a student's ability to understand the spoken word and their ability to recognize a word and decode it are dependent on each other. The text also discusses ways in which students struggling with speech impairments and reading difficulties can improve their learning process.

In Linguistics

Linguists use this term to designate activities associated with metalanguage, a language composed of the entirety of words forming linguistic terminology (for example, syntax, semantics, phoneme, lexeme... as well as terms in more current usage, such as word, sentence, letter, etc.) Metalinguistics is used to refer to the language, whether natural or formalized (as in logic), which is itself used to speak of language; to a language whose sole function is to describe a language. The language itself must constitute the sole sphere of application for the entire vocabulary.1

Metalinguistic Awareness and Bilingualism

Metalinguistic awareness is the ability to view and analyze language as a “thing,” language as a “process,” and language as a “system.” The term was first used by Harvard professor Courtney Cazden in 1974 to demonstrate the shift of linguistic intelligence across languages. Metalinguistic awareness in bilingual learners is the ability to objectively function outside one language system and to objectify languages’ rules, structures and functions. Code-switching and translation are examples of bilinguals’ metalinguistic awareness. Metalinguistics awareness was used as a construct in research extensively in the mid 1980’s and early 1990s. Research has shown metalinguistic awareness in bilinguals to be a crucial component because of its documented relationship and positive effects on language ability, symbolic development and literacy skills.4

In their book Literacy and Orality, scholars David R. Olson and Nancy Torrance explore the relationship between literacy and metalinguistic awareness, citing a link that arises from the fact that, in both reading and writing, language can become the object of thought and discussion. Prose reading and writing can be an instrument of metalinguistic reflection and in those cases one must assess the particular meaning of terms and of grammatical relations between them in order, either to understand such texts or write them. 7

See also

References & Bibliography

Key texts



Additional material


  • Jacob L. Mey in his book Trends in Linguistics describes Mikhail Bakhtin's interpretation of metalinguistics as "encompassing the life history of a speech community, with an orientation toward a study of large events in the speech life of people and embody changes in various cultures and ages."
  • Trends in Linguistics


External links

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