Awareness of Metalanguage in Pedagogic Grammars

Roger Berry

Lingnan University, Hong Kong

Address:           Department of English, Lingnan University, Tuen Mun, Hong Kong


Based on a number of experiments, this paper will investigate teachers’ and learners’ awareness of how writers use different kinds of metalanguage in writing grammatical descriptions of English.

Metalanguage is understood as ‘language about language’; it is not just as terminology (noun, verb, etc.) but the whole range of linguistic choices facing pedagogic grammarians. In this, two key areas are ‘hedging’ (the use by writers of features such as modal verbs or adverbs of frequency to decrease their commitment to a statement) and voice/choice of personal pronouns. These two areas come together in such formulaic introductions as “we can use X to …/you can use X to …/X is used to …”.

Awareness here is understood not just as the ability to comprehend the content but also sensitivity to factors such as level and appropriacy of language.

Questions asked are: do teachers and learners notice such metalanguage? (i.e. does it matter at all?); and does the style affect learner’s understanding? There is already some evidence that it does.