Metalanguage is a term which some students try to avoid approaching because it sounds too intimidating and mysterious.

Initially, I explain it to my students this way:

“Metalanguage is simply the language you use to think, talk and write about how others use language.”


You may engage in using metalanguage for a number of reasons: for example, to describe, to analyse, to endorse, to critique, to educate, to entertain, to manipulate. As a VCE English or English Language student, you will put the first two into practice.

English students use metalanguage to describe and analyse how language is used to persuade in relation to current media issues as well as how writers use language to construct fiction and non-fiction texts. Important aspects of language studied in this way include vocabulary and glossaries, grammar, tone, language devices, accent and dialect and structural, style and genre conventions. For further discussion of metalanguage and course expectations about it, please access the following link and read this informative post by VCE Study Guides.

Parents modelling and overtly teaching their young children the  ‘mother tongue’ are using  metalanguage daily to educate, as do educators teaching first and subsequent languages.

Comedians and social commentators use metalanguage to entertain and/or to evaluate the way in which people use language and the implications of this. When well known public figures have their use of language subjected to such treatment, it is often satiric and often politically motivated. One example is the ridicule attending the tendency of past US president, George Bush, to the language faux-pas. A highly intelligent and educated person can lose credibility if their command of language in the immediacy of impromptu speaking is less than their more considered and reflective written or rehearsed formats. Combined with losing political favour, it is a minefield for a politician thus afflicted.

By contrast, current US President, Barak Obama, showed enormous statesman-like promise in his inaugural speech. However, with the Global Financial Crisis repercussions and an extreme right wing driven backlash, he has come under fire not only for unpopular reforms promised but for being perceived by those wanting reform to be unable to back his promising speech with adequate policy and action. A double whammy.

When it comes to words within a public ‘performance’, appearance means much even if not representative of the content. Metalanguage can be used to discuss aspects of the delivery of the spoken word as well as the written word, to compare and contrast them and to analyse the interaction between them and the implications of how they enhance or detract from each other.

I acknowledge much of this content has a political bent. The ability to apply understanding of metalanguage is an important aspect of critical thinking in any field of human endeavour. In understanding socio-political events, issues and public debate, I consider awareness of language use and how it can influence our thinking and position our perspective as a cornerstone of being a good citizen.

I hope this gives a broader context which helps you to understand the rather pompous term, ‘metalanguage’.



Here’s an example of a poetry glossary or terminology resource; and also a resource for poetry types:

VCE Literature students and others studying poetry may find this alphabetical resource more detailed and extensive in its content:

Of course there are other relevant links you can find in your research.

You are invited to share links with others in the comments section along with other observations.