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In linguistics, a calque or loan translation is a word or phrase borrowed from another language by literal word-for-word or root-for-root translation. When used as a verb, "to calque" means to borrow a word or phrase from another language while translating its components, so as to create a new lexeme in the target language.

"Calque" itself is a loanword from the French noun calque ("tracing; imitation; close copy").[1] Proving that a word is a calque sometimes requires more documentation than does an untranslated loanword because, in some cases, a similar phrase might have arisen in both languages independently. This is less likely to be the case when the grammar of the proposed calque is quite different from that of the borrowing language, or when the calque contains less obvious imagery.

Calquing is distinct from phono-semantic matching.[2] While calquing includes semantic translation, it does not consist of phonetic matching (i.e., retaining the approximate sound of the borrowed word through matching it with a similar-sounding pre-existing word or morpheme in the target language).


One system classifies calques into five groups:[3]

  • phraseological calques, in which idiomatic phrases are translated word for word. For example, "it goes without saying" calques the French ça va sans dire.[4]
  • syntactic calques, in which syntactic functions or constructions of the source language are imitated in the target language, in violation of their meaning. For example, in Spanish the legal term for "to find guilty" is properly declarar culpable ("to declare guilty"). Informal usage, however, is shifting to encontrar culpable: a syntactic mapping of "to find" without a semantic correspondence in Spanish of "find" to mean "determine as true."[5]
  • loan-translations, in which words are translated morpheme by morpheme or component by component into another language. The two morphemes of the Swedish word tonåring calque each part of the English "teenager": femton "fifteen" and åring "year-old" (as in the phrase tolv-åring "twelve-year-old").
  • semantic calques, also known as semantic loans, in which additional meanings of the source word are transferred to the word with the same primary meaning in the target language. As described below, the "computer mouse" was named in English for its resemblance to the animal; many other languages have extended their own native word for "mouse" to include the computer mouse.
  • morphological calques, in which the inflection of a word is transferred.

This terminology is not universal. Some authors call a morphological calque a "morpheme-by-morpheme translation".[6] Other linguists refer to a phonological calque, in which the pronunciation of a word is imitated in the other language;[7] for example, the English word "radar" becomes the similar-sounding Chinese word (pinyin "léi dá").[]

Loan blend

Loan blends or partial calques translate some parts of a compound but not others.[8] For example, the name of the Irish digital television service "Saorview" is a partial calque of that of the UK service "Freeview", translating the first half of the word from English to Irish but leaving the second half unchanged. Other examples include "liverwurst" (< German Leberwurst) and "apple strudel" (< German Apfelstrudel).[]


Loan translation: "flea market"

The common English phrase "flea market" is a loan translation of the French marché aux puces ("market with fleas").[9] Other national variations include:

Loan translation: "skyscraper"

Another example of a common morpheme-by-morpheme loan-translation, in a multitude of languages, is that of the English word skyscraper:

Loan translation: transl?ti? and tr?ducti?

The Latin word transl?ti? "a transferring" derives from transfer? "to transfer", from trans "across" + fer? "bear". The Germanic languages and some Slavic languages calqued their words for "translation" from the Latin word transl?ti?, substituting their respective Germanic or Slavic root words for the Latin roots.

The remaining Slavic languages instead calqued their words for "translation" from an alternative Latin word tr?ducti?, itself derived from tr?d?c? ("to lead across" or "to bring across", from trans "across" + d?c?, "to lead" or "to bring").[10]

The West Slavic languages adopted the transl?ti? pattern. The East Slavic languages (except for Belarusian and Ukrainian) and the South Slavic languages adopted the tr?ducti? pattern.

The Romance languages, deriving directly from Latin, did not need to calque their equivalent words for "translation". Instead, they simply adapted the second of the two alternative Latin words, tr?ducti?. Thus, Aragonese: traducción; Catalan: traducció; French: traduction; Italian: traduzione; Portuguese: tradução; Romanian: traducere; and Spanish: traducción.

The English verb "to translate" was borrowed from the Latin transl?ti?, rather than being calqued.[10] Were the English verb "translate" calqued, it would be "overset", akin to the calques in other Germanic languages. The Icelandic word for "translate", þýða (cognate with the German deuten, meaning to interpret), was not calqued from Latin, nor was it borrowed;[11] were the Icelandic verb calqued, it would be something like "ofursetja", analogously to the other Germanic words.

Following are the Germanic- and Slavic-language calques for "translation":[10]

Semantic calque: mouse

The computer mouse was named in English for its resemblance to the animal. Many other languages have extended their own native word for "mouse" to include the sense of the "computer mouse".

See also


  1. ^ Overzetting (noun) and overzetten (verb) in the sense of "translation" and "to translate", respectively, are considered archaic. While omzetting may still be found in early modern literary works, it has been replaced entirely in modern Dutch by vertaling.



  1. ^ Robb: German English Words
  2. ^ Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2003). Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 1-4039-1723-X.
  3. ^ May Smith, The Influence of French on Eighteenth-century Literary Russian, pp. 29–30.
  4. ^ Foreign Words. Fowler, H. W. 1908. The King's English
  5. ^ If my Calqueulations are Correct, Paul Weston
  6. ^ Claude Gilliot, "The Authorship of the Qur'?n", in Gabriel Said Reynolds, The Qur'an in its Historical Context, p. 97.
  7. ^ Specialised Dictionaries for Learners edited by Pedro Antonio Fuertes Olivera, p. 187
  8. ^ Philip Durkin, The Oxford Guide to Etymology, sec. 5.1.4
  9. ^ "flea market", The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, fourth edition, 2000 Archived 2007-03-11 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ a b c Christopher Kasparek, "The Translator's Endless Toil", The Polish Review, vol. XXVIII, no. 2, 1983, p. 83.
  11. ^ "Þýða í Enska - Íslenska-Enska Orðabók". Glosbe. Retrieved .
  12. ^ "overzetting" in Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal, IvdNT


External links

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