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Metanalysis is the reinterpretation of the relation between form and function within an utterance. This is the case when the meaning which was originally associated with a specific part of a construction (e.g. a morpheme or a phrase) is associated with a different part of that construction by the hearers and/or speakers.

Metanalysis is one of the four mechanisms of form-function reanalysis established by Croft (2000). It consists of the parallel application of the two mechanisms of hyperanalysis and hypoanalysis.


Examples of metanalysis are the French bipartite negation constructions ne ... pas, ne ... plus, ne ... personne and so on. Originally these constructions received their negative meaning from the element ne, while the other constituent added emphatic power to the construction as a whole. Nowadays the formally emphatic elements pas, personne etc. have received a negating meaning on their own. In colloquial French they often occur as the only negating item in utterances, the use of ne is no longer obligatory.

Other meanings

The term metanalysis also occurs in Otto Jespersen's writings, in the sense of what nowadays is called reanalysis.


The term was invented by Croft (2000) in analogy to the morphophonemic process of metathesis. This process describes the alternation of the linear order on the segmental tier of a word.


  • Croft, William. 2000. Explaining Language Change. An Evolutionary Perspective, ch. 5. Form-function reanalysis. Harlow: Longman, 117-144.