From No Subject - Encyclopedia of Psychoanalysis
Jump to: navigation, search
French: métalangage
Linguistic Definition

"Metalanguage" is the technical linguistic term for any form of language which is used to describe or analyze the properties of another language.

Roman Jakobson

Roman Jakobson includes the metalingual function in his list of the functions of language.[1]

Jacques Lacan
Early Work

Lacan's first reference to metalanguage comes in 1956, when he echoes Jakobson's view on the metalingual function of all language:

"All language implies a metalanguage, its already a metalanguage of its own register."[2]

Later Work

A few years later, in 1960, he says precisely the opposite, arguing that "no metalanguage can be spoken."[3]

No "Outside" of Language

What Lacan appears to mean by this remark is that, since every attempt to fix the meaning of language must be done in language, there can be no escape from language, no "outside".

This is reminiscent of Heidegger's views on the impossibility of exiting "the house of language."

Metalanguage Does Not Exist

Lacan rejects the very possibility of a metalinguistic dimension, denies the existence of any metalanguage.

Lacan follows Heidegger's view of language as a "house of being" of which it is impossible to step outside.

Meaning Beyond Language

This also appears similar to the structuralist theme of il n'y a rien hors du texte ("there is nothing outside the text"), but it is not the same; Lacan does not deny that there is a beyond of language (this beyond is the real), but he does argue that this beyond is not of a kind that could finally anchor meaning.

There is, in other words, no transcendental signified, no way that language could "tell the truth about truth."[4]

No Other of the Other

The same point is also expressed in the phrase:

"There is no Other of the Other."[5]

If the Other is the guarantee of the coherence of the subject's discourse, then the falsity of this guarantee is revealed by the fact that the guarantor himself lacks such a guarantee.


In a clinical context, this means that there is no metalanguage of the transference, no point outside the transference from which it could be finally interpreted and "liquidated."

See Also


  1. Jakobson, Roman. "Linguistics and poetics," in Selected Writings, vol. II, Poetry of Grammar and Grammar of Poetry, The Hague: Mouton, 1981 [1960]., p. 25
  2. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book III. The Psychoses, 1955-56. Trans. Russell Grigg. London: Routledge, 1993. p. 226
  3. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p.311
  4. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 867-8
  5. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 311