Meaning of Metalanguage

What is Metalanguage:

Metalanguage is the language used to describe, enunciate, or analyze language.

In logic and linguistics, metalanguage is used to analyze and structure the logical problems posed by semantic paradoxes in the language used to describe objects.

The metalanguage is also defined as the specialized language to describe a natural linguistic system or another language considered to be the object of analysis. This is especially true in learning a new language, such as "the word language means "language" in English.

Expressions in metalanguage are usually distinguished from language-object by using italics, quotation marks, or separate line writing, although it is not always expressed that way.

British author Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) defined the theory of the hierarchy of languages ​​on two levels:

  • Language-object level: used to refer to objects, such as “they are people”.
  • Metalinguistic or metalanguage level: it is the language used to define the previous level, for example, in the phrase “immigrants are people”, “immigrants” is at the metalanguage level.

On the other hand, the Polish author Alfred Tarski (1901-1983) defines metalanguage as the solution for semantic paradoxes stating that “it is necessary to speak the truth about language from a different language called metalanguage”.

Some examples of metalanguage are grammatical language, lexicographic language, logical language, children's language, technical language, computer language, among others.

See also Language.

In linguistics, six uses or functions are distinguished in language, one of them being the metalinguistic function, which uses the metalanguage to speak of the language itself. For example: "The metalanguage is a language."

See also Language functions.

Characteristics of the metalanguage

The metalanguage has specific characteristics that help to better understand the message due to the logical complexity that it sustains. Alfred Tarski defines some essential characteristics for a language to be considered a metalanguage:

  • The metalanguage defines a language using a different language.
  • The metalanguage must be richer than the object-language, since it describes its sentences and its syntax.
  • The metalanguage is understood within the theory of sets and binary logic.
  • The metalanguage must be a copy of the object-language so that what can be said with it can also be expressed by the metalanguage.

Metalanguage in computing

The metalanguage in computing is used to describe program strings precisely. In 1950, in the field of computing, there were two types of problems for the composition of computer programs:

  1. The lack of the design of a mathematical language to express an algorithm.
  2. The inability to translate programs into computer code.

See also Algorithm.

The first problem was solved thanks to the creation of the discipline of computer program design, and the second question was solved thanks to the generation of compilers that are defined as a metalanguage, being a program that reads a program.

Computer compilers are based on programming languages. One of the most used is the BNF (Backus-Naur Form) created by John Backus and Peter Naur, being developed independently by Noam Chomsky, also known as Chomsky's TYPE2 model hierarchy.

Compilers generate a syntactic analysis detecting most errors in the source code and translate it into an equivalent program in another language (object code).

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