A metalanguage is a "language about language". The language through which speaks a meta language, the corresponding object language.

Meta comes from the Greek ( μετά ) and means, among other things, as much as, behind ',' beyond '. In English we speak of " metalanguage " and "object language", " métalangage " in French by.


Meanings of the term " metalanguage "

Metalanguage commonly referred to a language about a language.

In the normal case, and thus the main meaning metalanguage called a language over an object language in terms of a language on non-linguistic objects. The examples below are examples of this school principal meanings.

In another meaning metalanguage can also be a meta-language over a meta-language and it means (in the case of a two-stage Metasprachlichkeit ) Metametasprache. There is then a so Metametasprache, a metalanguage and object language.

A pure metalanguage should rarely also in artificial languages ​​, so the above definition describes an ideal.

Metalanguage is then in a weaker meaning a language " is also discussed in the sentences of the object language ".

In summary, a metalanguage is a language through a language which can be an object language or even a meta language either, and this can be used in pure form or mixed with object-language elements.

Ambiguity of the term " object language "

The corresponding expression with the meta-language term " object language " is also ambiguous:

= Language on extra-linguistic objects

( = Absolute object language; = lowest statement level ( zero level); = first-order language;

= Language, the subject of a meta-language is (probably the main meaning)

( = Relative object language; = language that is " mentioned " as an object of study, is talked about );

= The natural language or everyday language

Examples of the main meanings

  • Example 1:
  • Example 2:

Metalanguage = 2nd stage = The sentence, Vienna is a city 'is true.

Object language = 1st stage = Vienna is a city.

Object = 0 level = { Vienna, [ a city ]}

  • Example 3:

Relativity and hierarchy of Metasprachlichkeit

The property of a language to be metalanguage is relative: The metalanguage of an object language can be the object language of a meta- meta-language.

Bertrand Russell has " considered the possibility of an infinite hierarchy of language levels in mention ." Then there are basically any number of meta-languages ​​.

The question however is whether not the everyday language is the first object and the highest metalanguage is both.

A Metasprachlichkeit can within linguistically ( intralingual ) or between linguistic ( interlingual, English: " metalinguistical " ) exist. In a German - English textbook is the German language meta-language of English. In an English - French textbook of the English language metalanguage of French etc.

Object and meta-language in the vernacular

In colloquial language, there are several levels of language. In a literal sense, there is an object - and metalanguage only in certain artificial languages ​​.

" Ordinary language is a mixture of object language and metalanguage in which all three parts of the meta-language to occur ." " The occurrence of words such as ' word ' and the statement' refers to the use of the metalanguage. Words such as conclusion 'and' derived ' belong to the syntax, words such as ' true', probably 'and' maybe ' part of the semantics, and words like' assertion ',' incredible ' and of course ' belong to pragmatics. "

A language that does not distinguish how the vernacular between object and meta-language, called Alfred Tarski semantically closed language. In it, the liar paradox can be formulated.

" Words that occur in different languages ​​similar meanings are called ambiguous with respect to the language level. '"

Syntax, semantics and pragmatics of the metalanguage

" In the metalanguage particularly semantic and syntactic rules, and theorems the rules for the object language in question be formulated, prepared, arising due to the rules. "

Decays after Reichenbach a (logically analyzed ) metalanguage according to the argument places the characters relation into three parts: " The first part of the syntax, deals exclusively with relationships between characters and therefore relates structural properties of the object language. " " The second part, the semantics that takes on characters and reference objects; Therefore, it concludes, statements about the truth values ​​with a ... " The pragmatics adds a reference to persons added. So there must be ( 1) formation rules, (2 ) Truth rules, and (3 ) derivation rules.

Importance of distinguishing meta - object language

The term ' metalanguage ' is a concept from the semantic theory of stages. According to the theory of semantic levels, the language about the things of the language of the language is to distinguish themselves. All beings that are no characters, there are the zero - level. The class of signs which designate these objects, characters are " first-stage " or " object language ". Characters that identify the object language, form the meta-language of the first language (language "second stage "). And so on.

The concept of meta-language is used today in many theoretical sciences. In this sense, meta-language is a scientific language system that does not refer to the object field of a science, but on the language of science. The distinction between metalanguage and object language - and at all levels of the semantic - proved initially in formal logic and mathematical basic research as necessary to resolve antinomies or avoid, will take place today but in many theoretical sciences application.

The classical liar paradox dissolves when you look self-referential statements as meaningless.

The distinction between object and meta-language is considered a " logical feat ". The importance of the distinction lies in the fact that the reasoning underlying the " theory of Sprachstufung " the prohibition of self Bezuges linguistic expressions of the same language level is illustrated and avoids occurring in disregard antinomies.

The distinction between object and meta-language results in a " new and important meaning " rule: " any expression in which expression of this is the speech itself, is meaningless ." It is considered an important principle: " According to this principle, we have in a sentence in which we want to say something about a thing, not the thing itself, but its name or designation to use it. "

"You can, due to the metalanguage then and only then specify methodologically correct and factually accurate definitions of semantic concepts when in the meta-language variables of higher logical types occur when all the variables of the language, which is the subject of the investigation ," and a consistency proof can not perform, " if the metalanguage contains no variables of higher types ."

Precursor, parallels and applications

The theory of language levels had its antecedents in the scholastic doctrine of supposition, which fell in early modern times as scholastic discredited and forgotten.

In his theory of types Russell made ​​a distinction between object - and metalanguage.

"In the language of set theory can be the stage or type principle expressed as follows: A quantity may not simultaneously be member of itself, ..."

Russell speaks of a transparent and non - transparent occurrence of a character. A transparent deposit is the occurrence of a character in which the numeral a bit. A non- transparent deposits, the occurrence of a character that is not used as such, but is only mentioned (for example: Arno is a name of four letters ).

" On the distinction between object and meta-language is often also with the password " " indicated use and mention. Are we talking about the horse Firebird, need ( = use) we the sound sequence " Firebird" as a symbol to refer to an object that is part of the world. Let's talk, however, about the sound sequence " Firebird" by we say, for example, this sequence of sounds was viersilbig mention ( = mention ) we have the sequence of sounds "Firebird " by using the names similar structure " the sound sequence, Firebird ' " they're talking about. "

The meaning pair "use and mention" has in German linguistics its counterpart in " use of an expression " - "masterminding an expression ": An expression is used when it is other than described himself, in the normal case, an extra-linguistic reality. An expression is given, when talking about the expression itself. ( See also material and formal supposition. )

Abbreviations are not metalinguistic way: " An acronym is no name for a character, but is instead a character. "

The theory of language levels is also important for the truth definition of Tarski.

In the judicial interpretation of doctrine, the principle " protestatio facto contraria non valet " applies: a repository, which is opposed to a particular interpretation of one's own behavior is irrelevant if one's own behavior contradicts the custody. Example: "I do not want to offend, you idiot! "

In computer science, such as the Backus -Naur Form is used (short: BNF ) for the meta-linguistic description of the syntax of programming languages.


Object - and meta-linguistic expressions can be distinguished visually different:

  • Use of quotation marks of a certain type (eg:, casting ' is six characters long );
  • Use a different printing type (example: casting is six characters long );
  • Use of any other special meta-linguistic symbolism.

How changes from author to author or publisher to publisher etc.

A phrase in quotation marks, etc., is then " a metalinguistic expression in relation to a similar expression without quotes ".

Example: "House" has four letters and is monosyllabic ( true); the house has four letters (false ).

In non- axiomatic contexts ambiguity is also taken into account. Double quotes can be used, for example, both the meta-linguistic designation of linguistic expressions as well as for identifying semantically not (yet) sufficiently specific or too metaphorical linguistic expressions. If the importance of distinguishing one is aware in object - and meta- language, can the importance of the respective context refer.