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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. For instance, the English word "skyscraper" led to calques in dozens of other languages.[1] Another notable example is the Latin weekday names, which came to be associated by ancient Germanic speakers with their own gods following a practice known as interpretatio germanica: the Latin "Day of Mercury", Mercurii dies, was borrowed into Late Proto-Germanic as the "Day of Wanaz" (*Wodanesdag), which became W?dnesdæg in Old English, then "Wednesday" in Modern English.[2]

The term calque itself is a loanword from the French noun calque ("tracing, imitation, close copy"), while the word loanword is a calque of the German noun Lehnwort.[3] Calquing is distinct from phono-semantic matching: while calquing includes semantic translation, it does not consist of phonetic matching--i.e., of retaining the approximate sound of the borrowed word by matching it with a similar-sounding pre-existing word or morpheme in the target language.[4]

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.


One system classifies calques into five groups. However, this terminology is not universal:[5]

  • Phraseological calques: idiomatic phrases are translated word for word. For example, "it goes without saying" calques the French ça va sans dire.[6]
  • Syntactic calques: syntactic functions or constructions of the source language are imitated in the target language, in violation of their meaning.
  • Loan-translations: words are translated morpheme by morpheme, or component by component, into another language.
  • Semantic calques (also known as semantic loans): 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: the inflection of a word is transferred. Some authors call this a morpheme-by-morpheme translation.[7]

Also, some linguists refer to a phonological calque, in which the pronunciation of a word is imitated in the other language.[8] For example, the English word "radar" becomes the similar-sounding Chinese word (pinyin: léidá).[8], which literally means "to arrive (as fast) as thunder".

Partial calques

Partial calques, or loan blends, translate some parts of a compound but not others.[9] 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 Gaelic but leaving the second half unchanged. Other examples include "liverwurst" (< German Leberwurst) and "apple strudel" (< German Apfelstrudel).[]


Loan translations

The common English phrase "flea market" is a loan translation of the French marché aux puces ("market of fleas").[10] At least 22 other languages also calque the French expression (directly, or indirectly through some other language).[11]

Another example of a common morpheme-by-morpheme loan-translation, is of the English word "skyscraper", which may be calqued using the word for "sky" or "cloud" and the word, variously, for "scraping", "scratching", "piercing", "sweeping", "kissing", etc. At least 54 languages have their own versions of the English word.[12]

transl?ti? and tr?ducti?

The Latin word transl?ti? ("a transferring") derives from transfer? ("to transfer"), from trans ("across") + fer? (the verb "bear").[13]

All Germanic languages (except for English, Icelandic, and Dutch), and some Slavic languages, calqued their words for "translation" from the Latin 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").[13]

The West and East Slavic languages (except for Russian) adopted the transl?ti? pattern, whereas Russian 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?.[13]

The English verb "to translate" was borrowed from the Latin transl?ti?, rather than being calqued.[13] The Icelandic word þýða ("translate"; cognate with the German deuten, "to interpret") was not calqued from Latin, nor was it borrowed.[14]

Semantic calque

The "computer mouse" was named in English for its resemblance to the animal. Many other languages use their word for "mouse" for the "computer mouse", sometimes using a diminutive or, in Chinese, adding the word "cursor" (thus "", "mouse cursor").[]. At least 35 languages have their own versions of the English term.[15]

See also



  1. ^ Gachelin, Jean-Marc (1986). Lexique-grammaire, domaine anglais. Université de Saint-Etienne. p. 97. ISBN 978-2-901559-14-6.
  2. ^ Simek, Rudolf (1993). Dictionary of northern mythology. D.S. Brewer. p. 371. ISBN 0-85991-369-4.
  3. ^ Knapp, Robbin D. 27 January 2011. "Robb: German English Words." Robb: Human Languages.
  4. ^ Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2003). Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 1-4039-1723-X.
  5. ^ Smith, May. The Influence of French on Eighteenth-century Literary Russian. pp. 29-30.
  6. ^ Fowler, H. W. [1908] 1999. "Vocabulary § Foreign Words." chap. 1 in The King's English (2nd ed.). New York:
  7. ^ Gilliot, Claude. "The Authorship of the Qur'?n." In The Qur'an in its Historical Context, edited by G. S. Reynolds. p. 97.
  8. ^ a b Yihua, Zhang, and Guo Qiping. 2010. "An Ideal Specialised Lexicography for Learners in China based on English-Chinese Specialised Dictionaries." Pp. 171-92 in Specialised Dictionaries for Learners, edited by P. A. F. Olivera. Berlin: de Gruyter. p. 187.
  9. ^ Durkin, Philip. The Oxford Guide to Etymology. § 5.1.4
  10. ^ "flea market", The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, fourth edition, 2000 Archived 2007-03-11 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ The 22 languages are listed in the 3:30, 12 September 2020 edition of the "Calque" article.
  12. ^ The 54 languages are listed in the 3:30, 12 September 2020 edition of the "Calque" article.
  13. ^ a b c d Christopher Kasparek, "The Translator's Endless Toil", The Polish Review, vol. XXVIII, no. 2, 1983, p. 83.
  14. ^ "Þýða í Enska - Íslenska-Enska Orðabók". Glosbe. Retrieved .
  15. ^ The 35 languages are listed in the 3:30, 12 September 2020 edition of the "Calque" article.


External links

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