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Metalinguistic awareness refers to the ability to objectify language as a process as well as an artifact. The concept of metalinguistic awareness is helpful in explaining the execution and transfer of linguisticknowledge across languages (e.g. code switching as well as translation among bilinguals). Metalinguistics can be classified as the ability to consciously reflect on the nature of language, by using the following skills:
- an awareness that language has a potential greater than that of simple symbols (it goes beyond the meaning)
- an awareness that words are separable from their referents (meaning resides in the mind, not in the name, i.e. Sonia is Sonia, and I will be the same person even if somebody calls me another name)
- an awareness that language has a structure that can be manipulated (realizing that language is malleable: you can change and write things in many different ways (for example, if something is written in a grammatically incorrect way, you can change it)).
Metalinguistic awareness is also known as "metalinguistic ability", which can be defined similarly as metacognition ("knowing about knowing"). Metalinguistic awareness can also be defined as the ability to reflect on the use of language. As metalinguistic awareness grows, children begin to recognize that statements may have a literal meaning and an implied meaning. They begin to make more frequent and sophisticated use of metaphors such as the simile, "We packed the room like sardines". Between the ages of 6 and 8 most children begin to expand upon their metalinguistic awareness and start to recognize irony and sarcasm. These concepts require the child to understand the subtleties of an utterance's social and cultural context.