Metalanguage is a language or system of symbols used to describe, define, or analyze another language. It enables discussion and examination of the structures, rules, and elements of the target language. In computer science, metalanguages are commonly used in programming and data description, such as XML (Extensible Markup Language) for defining markup languages.

Key Takeaways

  1. A metalanguage is a language used to describe, define, or talk about another language (often referred to as the object language).
  2. Metalanguages are essential in computer programming for creating domain-specific languages, parsing, and language design, as they provide structure and rules for other languages to follow.
  3. Examples of metalanguages include XML and the Backus-Naur Form (BNF), which are widely used in data representation and formal language description respectively.


The term “metalanguage” is crucial in technology as it allows for the systematic description, interpretation, and analysis of various programming languages and communication protocols.

By defining a language in terms of its structure, syntax, and semantics, metalanguages facilitate the creation of compilers, interpreters, and other software tools essential for implementing and understanding different programming languages.

Consequently, metalanguages play a critical role in promoting reusability, interoperability, and standardization across heterogeneous platforms and systems, ultimately fostering collaboration, innovation, and evolution within the technology ecosystem.


Metalanguage serves as an essential tool for communication and understanding, particularly within the realm of technology and programming. The primary purpose of a metalanguage is to describe, analyze, or define the structure and rules of another language, which is often referred to as the object language.

By providing a systematic framework to explore the intricacies and functionality of a given language, metalanguage allows programmers, developers, and users to delve deeper into the various components, logical construction, and syntactical elements of a language. This not only aids in a better grasp of the language being studied but also enables the development of more efficient and comprehensive applications.

A key aspect of the utility of metalanguages is their ability to simplify complex concepts and streamline the process of encoding and decoding information. With the help of metalanguages, it becomes more accessible for individuals across the technological spectrum to interpret, construct, and modify data across various programming languages, platforms, and systems.

Examples of widely used metalanguages include XML, which is employed to support the standardized representation of structured data, and BNF, which is utilized to represent the grammar and syntax of programming languages. Through their ability to represent and communicate complex structures and relationships, metalanguages ultimately enhance the efficacy and flexibility of technology, allowing for more sophisticated applications and fostering innovation within the field.

Examples of Metalanguage

HTML (Hypertext Markup Language): HTML is a widely used metalanguage that helps in creating structured documents for the World Wide Web. It provides a standard set of rules for defining text, images, multimedia elements, and the overall appearance of web pages. As a metalanguage, HTML specifies the structure and semantics of its language using tags and attributes.

XML (Extensible Markup Language): XML is a versatile metalanguage used to define the syntax and semantics of other markup languages. It is used to store, transmit, and organize structured data across different platforms and systems. XML allows users to define their own elements and attributes to create custom markup languages tailored to specific applications, such as RSS (Really Simple Syndication) for news feeds or MathML for representing mathematical notation in web pages.

UML (Unified Modeling Language): UML is a visual metalanguage used to model software systems and business processes. It provides a standardized set of symbols and notations for representing object-oriented designs, including system components, their properties, and relationships between them. UML diagrams help developers and stakeholders understand software architecture and design better, making it a valuable tool for communication and collaboration in software engineering projects.

Metalanguage FAQ

What is a metalanguage?

A metalanguage is a language used to describe, define, or analyze another language, often referred to as the object language. It essentially allows for discussing the grammar, structure, and rules of the object language.

Why are metalanguages important?

Metalanguages are essential for ensuring that digital systems and humans can communicate effectively. They are crucial in fields like linguistics, computing, and artificial intelligence, as they allow for precise, unambiguous definitions and instructions.

What are some common metalanguages?

Some widely used metalanguages include XML (eXtensible Markup Language), EBNF (Extended Backus-Naur Form), and RDF (Resource Description Framework). These metalanguages have various applications, such as data structuring, grammar specification, and semantic web representation.

How is a metalanguage different from a programming language?

While both metalanguages and programming languages are sets of symbols and rules used for communication, a metalanguage is specifically designed for describing, defining, or analyzing another language (object language). Programming languages, on the other hand, are generally used to write computer programs and create software applications.

Can a metalanguage be a programming language or vice versa?

Yes, it is possible for a language to function as both a metalanguage and a programming language. For example, Lisp is a programming language that can also be used to define and describe other languages. It is important to note, however, that this dual functionality is not always the case.

Related Technology Terms

  • Markup Language
  • Semantics
  • Syntax
  • Metadata
  • Ontology

Sources for More Information


About The Authors

The DevX Technology Glossary is reviewed by technology experts and writers from our community. Terms and definitions continue to go under updates to stay relevant and up-to-date. These experts help us maintain the almost 10,000+ technology terms on DevX. Our reviewers have a strong technical background in software development, engineering, and startup businesses. They are experts with real-world experience working in the tech industry and academia.

See our full expert review panel.

These experts include:


About Our Editorial Process

At DevX, we’re dedicated to tech entrepreneurship. Our team closely follows industry shifts, new products, AI breakthroughs, technology trends, and funding announcements. Articles undergo thorough editing to ensure accuracy and clarity, reflecting DevX’s style and supporting entrepreneurs in the tech sphere.

See our full editorial policy.

More Technology Terms

Technology Glossary

Table of Contents