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Title: What do we Mean when we Talk of Object-Language and Metalanguage in Theory of Natural Languages?
Author(s): DE BRABANTER, Philippe
Journal: Logique et Analyse
Volume: 248    Date: 2019   
Pages: 351-378
DOI: 10.2143/LEA.248.0.3287321

Abstract :
In this paper I raise the issue whether it is legitimate to talk about metalanguage and object-language in the context of natural language, as linguists often do. I show that whereas the study of formalised languages allows a clear distinction between metalanguage and object-language, that distinction is muddied by a number of factors when it comes to natural language use. I also show that in the latter context, talk of metalanguage and object-language requires making a further distinction, between object-language and natural language, and that none of the features displayed by metalanguage and object-language in logical theory has a perfect counterpart in the realm of natural languages. In particular a natural ‘object-language’ proves not to be a language after all, while a natural ‘metalanguage’ should arguably be regarded as a use of a language instead of as a language in its own right.

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