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MHS Library | English Language Year 11

Metalanguage - The subsystems of language

In Units 1 and 2, students use metalanguage associated with the following five subsystems:

Phonetics and phonology
Morphology and lexicology
Other metalanguage
The subsystems of language are the essential organising tools with which students become familiar: phonetics and phonology (the study of the sounds of language); morphology and lexicology (the study of the structure or forms of words); syntax (the study of how words are combined into sentences); semantics (the study of meaning in language); and discourse (the study of how written and spoken texts of two or more sentences are organised). In Units 1 and 2, students use metalanguage associated with the five subsystems (listed above).


Syntax is concerned with the organization of words into phrases, clauses and sentences.

  • Phrases and clauses: length of sentences (simple, compound, complex)/ subordination
  • Sentences
  • the basic functions in clause structure (subject, object, complement, adverbial)
  • Different sentence types (declarative, imperative, interrogative, exclamatic)
  • (spoken: incomplete / truncated sentences)
  • Syntactic patterning: (antithesis, listing, parallelism/repetition of grammatical structure, references: (anaphoric, cataphoric, deictic)
  • Nominalization
  • Various aspects of sentence structure; active/ passive
  • Sentence structure: (spoken) : “and” and “but” to start a sentence. ; ellipsis (omission of words / phrase in a sentence) Source: English Works

Important: Understand the difference between a coordinating and subordinating conjunctions.

To understand the difference between function and form. For example, a noun phrase (form) can be a subject, object or complement (functions).

Lexical cohesion

Lexical cohesion (anaphoric and cataphoric reference, deictic reference)

  • Information flow (end-focus, front-focus, passive)
  • The role of inference in creating coherence
  • The role of discourse features and lexical choices in creating textual cohesion and coherence.
  • How they are speaking: adjacency pairs; question and answer format; social distance…
  • conversational rituals;  purpose and context of the conversation
  • spoken is more spontaneous; speakers refer to themselves and to their audience with special expressions
  • hedging expression;  non fluency expression        introductory particle…
  • topic change particle…    turn taking…  Source: English Works

Some language features fit into more than one of the subsystems, due to their function.
For example, a


Phonetics and phonology

The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) - IPA chart with sounds

(Phonetics – the study of human speech sounds. It is concerned with the actual physical sounds that human beings utter in making intelligible speech. It is concerned with the mechanics and acoustics of speech, such as where we make sounds in the mouth or the places of articulation.)

Phonetics and phonology:

• the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)
• speech sound production: voicing, place of articulation and manner of articulation

• sounds in connected speech and connected speech processes: assimilation, vowel reduction, elision, insertion

• prosodic features: pitch, stress, volume, tempo and intonation

  • vocal effects: cough, laughter, breath
  • ​​features of Broad, General and Cultivated accents in Australian English
  • phonological patterning in texts: alliteration, assonance, consonance, onomatopoeia, rhythm, rhyme

​​(VCE English Language Study Design)


Semantics is the study of meaning in language – the meaning of words as well as phrases, clauses and sentences.

  • Semantic fields – we categorise lexemes by organizing vocabulary into fields of meaning or groups of words that are linked in meaning.
  • lexical meaning and semantic fields;
  • connotation and denotation;
  • Metaphor and figurative language; idioms; irony, metaphor, oxymoron, simile, personification,
  • puns, slang and colloquialisms
  • Lexical choice: synonyms, antonyms, collocations, idioms
  • Semantic patterning: irony, metaphor, oxymoron, simile, personification, animation, lexical ambiguity;  Source: English Works

Warning: Sometimes when people use the synonym function in a word, they use a word with a connotation different to the one they want.

20 most common English words

Morphology and Lexicology

Morphology refers to the study of the internal structure of words or how they are formed

  • free morphemes – can stand on own as words/ stem/ roots. (morphemes that can stand alone)
  • bound morphemes – must be attached to another morpheme – ing, un, some…  (affixes – prefixes and suffixes)
  • Inflectional morphemes – grammatical morphemes – grammar function – third person singular (s), past tense (ed); progressive/continuous (ing); past participle (ed); plural (s); possessives (‘s)
  • Derivational morphemes – derived from and add new meaning to existing words. (happy – happiness)
  • A lexicon is a person’s vocabulary; lexicology is the study of words and their meanings.
  • parts of speech (noun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, pronoun, auxiliary – be, have, do –  combined with verbs to create properties of verbs such as aspect and voice)
  • conjunction, determiner- the, some, my/ modals – can, could, may, might, shall, should, will, would, must – to show possibility, necessity, obligation.
  • suffixation (such as journo, brekky, mozzie)
  • Morphological patterning: (conversion of word class, creative word formation/ nominalisation) (Spoken discourse)
  • Contraction: what’s…  I’m, let’s,…
  • assimilation – gotta, g’day
  • jargon – technical terms/ slang (yakka)

Morphology and lexicology (English Works)


General information

Paralinguistics (Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical terms)

What are the subsystems of language