What is Metalanguage?

Although it appears on criteria sheets, many students never really understand the term metalanguage. Strangely, it is something that is rarely addressed in classrooms. While the word may be foreign to you, rest assured that metalanguage is not an entirely new concept you have to learn. How come? – because you have been unknowingly using metalanguage since the very beginning of high school.

Metalanguage is language that describes language. The simplest way to explain this is to focus on part 3 of the English exam – Language Analysis. In Language Analysis, we look at the author’s writing and label particular phrases with persuasive techniques such as: symbolism, imagery or personification. Through our description of the way an author writes (via the words ‘symbolism’, ‘imagery’ or ‘personification’), we have effectively used language that describes language.

Now, if we look at the bigger picture, our analysis of an author’s language can be applied to Text Response, and even Writing in Context. Some popular uses of metalanguage are shown below:


  • Tone
  • Narrator
  • Grammar and punctuation
  • Characterisation

For example: Achilles is characterised as a feutus, for his position is ‘chin down, shoulders hunched’ as though he is inside a womb. - Ransom, David Malouf.


  • Mise-en-scene
  • Camera angles
  • Music
  • Lighting

For example: When Terry leaves Friendly’s bar, the thick fog symbolises his clouded moral judgement as he decides whether he should remain ‘D and D’, or become a ‘rat’. – On The Waterfront, Elia Kazan.


  • Stage direction
  • Soliloquy
  • Monologue
  • Prop

For example: The miniature set Zac creates is designed with a white backdrop, demonstrating his desire to wipe away reality since he ‘can’t stand real things.’ – Cosi, Louis Nowra.

As indicated earlier, you should be familiar with many, if not all the terms mentioned above. Take note that some metalanguage terms are specific to a writing form, such as camera angle for films. As you discuss themes or characters, you should try and weave metalanguage throughout your body paragraphs. The purpose of this criteria is to demonstrate your ability to understand how the author uses language to communicate his or her meaning. The key is to remember that the author’s words or phrases are always chosen with a particular intention – it is your job to investigate why the author has written a text in a particular way.

How can you go about developing the right terminology for your essays? Try some of the following and good luck!

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Share Your Thoughts

This article has 10 comments so far!

  1. Sofia says —

    Thank you! Very helpful.

  2. Lisa says —

    Thanks for your support!

  3. Introduction to Text Response - VCE Study Guides says —

    [...] What is Metalanguage? [...]

  4. The 5 types of essay topics - VCE Study Guides says —

    [...] message about character or theme through their choice of words. Check out our blog post on metalanguage and what you need to look out [...]

  5. Clare says —

    Coolios! But can you please get the Metalanguage lists up soon?

  6. Lisa says —

    Yes! Check up on us within the next month – our VCE Study Guides Facebook page and monthly email subscriptions will keep you updated :)

  7. METALANGUAGE | mindremix says —

    [...] 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.  http://www.vcestudyguides.com/what-is-metalanguage [...]

  8. kelly says —

    THANK YOU!!!!!

  9. Masa says —

    Thanks, it was helful !

  10. didi says —

    how the way analyze the things using metalanguage, for example the sentences like in advertisment or billboard?
    thank you

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