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In linguistics, a calque ( /kælk/ ) 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.


The term calque itself is a loanword from the French noun calque ("tracing, imitation, close copy"). [1] Calquing is distinct from phono-semantic matching: while calquing includes semantic translation, it does not consist of phonetic matching—i.e., retaining the approximate sound of the borrowed word by matching it with a similar-sounding pre-existing word or morpheme in the target language. [2]

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: [3]

Also, some linguists refer to a phonological calque, in which the pronunciation of a word is imitated in the other language. [6] For example, the English word "radar" becomes the similar-sounding Chinese word 雷达 (pinyin :léidá). [6]

Loan blend

Loan blends, or partial calques, translate some parts of a compound but not others. [7] 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 ).[ citation needed ]


Loan translations

The common English phrase "flea market" is a loan translation of the French marché aux puces ("market with fleas"). [8] Many other languages also calque the French expression (directly, or indirectly through some other language). The Spanish language phrase is mercado de pulgas while the Dutch language version is Vlooienmarkt, and the German one Flohmarkt.

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. For example, the French language word is gratte-ciel and the Spanish language word is rascacielos.

translātiō and trāductiō

The Latin word translātiō ("a transferring") derives from transferō ("to transfer"), from trans ("across") + ferō (the verb "bear"). [9]

All Germanic languages (except for English and Icelandic and Dutch), and some Slavic languages, calqued their words for "translation" from the Latin translātiō, 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, trāductiō, itself derived from trādūcō ("to lead across" or "to bring across")—from trans ("across") + dūcō , ("to lead" or "to bring"). [9]

The West and East Slavic languages (except for Russian) adopted the translātiō pattern, whereas Russian and the South Slavic languages adopted the trāductiō 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, trāductiō. [9]

The English verb "to translate" was borrowed from the Latin translātiō, rather than being calqued. [9] The Icelandic word þýða ("translate"; cognate with the German deuten, "to interpret") was not calqued from Latin, nor was it borrowed. [10]

Semantic calque

The "computer mouse" was named in English for its resemblance to the animal. Many other languages use the word for "mouse" for the "computer mouse", sometimes using a diminutive or, in Chinese, adding "cursor", making "鼠标", meaning "mouse cursor".[ citation needed ]

See also

Related Research Articles

False friend Words in two languages that sound similar but have very different meanings

In linguistics, false friends are words in different languages that look or sound similar, but differ significantly in meaning. An example is the English embarrassed and the Spanish embarazada, the word parents and the Portuguese parentes and Italian parenti, or the word sensible, which means reasonable in English, but sensitive in French, German, Italian and Spanish.

A lexicon, word-hoard, wordbook, or word-stock is the vocabulary of a person, language, or branch of knowledge. In linguistics, a lexicon is a language's inventory of lexemes. The word lexicon derives from Greek word λεξικόν, neuter of λεξικός meaning 'of or for words'.

In linguistic typology, an analytic language is a language that primarily conveys relationships between words in sentences by way of helper words and word order, as opposed to using inflections. For example, the English-language phrase "The cat chases the ball" conveys the fact that the cat is acting on the ball analytically via word order. This can be contrasted to synthetic languages, which rely heavily on inflections to convey word relationships. Most languages are not purely analytic, but many rely primarily on analytic syntax.

A loanword is a word adopted from one language and incorporated into another language without translation. This is in contrast to cognates, which are words in two or more languages that are similar because they share an etymological origin, and calques, which involve translation.

Synonym Words or phrases having the same meaning

A synonym is a word, morpheme, or phrase that means exactly or nearly the same as another word, morpheme, or phrase in the same language. For example, the words begin, start, commence, and initiate are all synonyms of one another; they are synonymous. The standard test for synonymy is substitution: one form can be replaced by another in a sentence without changing its meaning. Words are considered synonymous in one particular sense: for example, long and extended in the context long time or extended time are synonymous, but long cannot be used in the phrase extended family. Synonyms with exactly the same meaning share a seme or denotational sememe, whereas those with inexactly similar meanings share a broader denotational or connotational sememe and thus overlap within a semantic field. The former are sometimes called cognitive synonyms and the latter, near-synonyms, plesionyms or poecilonyms.

A neologism is a relatively recent or isolated term, word, or phrase that may be in the process of entering common use, but that has not yet been fully accepted into mainstream language. Neologisms are often driven by changes in culture and technology. In the process of language formation, neologisms are more mature than protologisms. A word whose development stage is between that of the protologism and neologism is a prelogism.

Fusional languages or inflected languages are a type of synthetic language, distinguished from agglutinative languages by their tendency to use a single inflectional morpheme to denote multiple grammatical, syntactic, or semantic features. For example, the Spanish verb comer has the first-person singular preterite tense form comí ; the single suffix represents both the features of first-person singular agreement and preterite tense, instead of having a separate affix for each feature.

Compound verb

In linguistics, a compound verb or complex predicate is a multi-word compound that functions as a single verb. One component of the compound is a light verb or vector, which carries any inflections, indicating tense, mood, or aspect, but provides only fine shades of meaning. The other, "primary", component is a verb or noun which carries most of the semantics of the compound, and determines its arguments. It is usually in either base or [in Verb + Verb compounds] conjunctive participial form.

A root is the core of a word that is irreducible into more meaningful elements. In morphology, a root is a morphologically simple unit which can be left bare or to which a prefix or a suffix can attach. The root word is the primary lexical unit of a word, and of a word family, which carries aspects of semantic content and cannot be reduced into smaller constituents. Content words in nearly all languages contain, and may consist only of, root morphemes. However, sometimes the term "root" is also used to describe the word without its inflectional endings, but with its lexical endings in place. For example, chatters has the inflectional root or lemma chatter, but the lexical root chat. Inflectional roots are often called stems, and a root in the stricter sense may be thought of as a monomorphemic stem.

Etymology is the study of the history of words. By extension, the etymology of a word means its origin and development throughout history.

The Greek language has contributed to the English vocabulary in five main ways:

Folk etymology or reanalysis – sometimes called popular etymology, analogical reformation, or etymological reinterpretation – is a change in a word or phrase resulting from the replacement of an unfamiliar form by a more familiar one. The form or the meaning of an archaic, foreign, or otherwise unfamiliar word is reanalyzed as resembling more familiar words or morphemes. Rebracketing is a form of folk etymology in which a word is broken down or "bracketed" into a new set of supposed elements. Back-formation, creating a new word by removing or changing parts of an existing word, is often based on folk etymology.

Phono-semantic matching (PSM) is the incorporation of a word into one language from another, often creating a neologism, where the word's non-native quality is hidden by replacing it with phonetically and semantically similar words or roots from the adopting language. Thus, the approximate sound and meaning of the original expression in the source language are preserved, though the new expression in the target language may sound native.

Language contact occurs when speakers of two or more languages or varieties interact and influence each other. The study of language contact is called contact linguistics. When speakers of different languages interact closely, it is typical for their languages to influence each other. Language contact can occur at language borders, between adstratum languages, or as the result of migration, with an intrusive language acting as either a superstratum or a substratum.

In linguistics, word formation is the creation of a new word. Word formation is sometimes contrasted with semantic change, which is a change in a single word's meaning. The boundary between word formation and semantic change can be difficult to define as a new use of an old word can be seen as a new word derived from an old one and identical to it in form. See 'conversion'.

In linguistics, periphrasis is the usage of multiple separate words to carry the meaning of prefixes, suffixes or verbs, among other things, where either would be possible. Technically, it is a device where grammatical meaning is expressed by one or more free morphemes, instead of by inflectional affixes or derivation. Periphrastic forms are an example of analytic language, whereas the absence of periphrasis is a characteristic of synthetic language. While periphrasis concerns all categories of syntax, it is most visible with verb catenae. The verb catenae of English are highly periphrastic.

A semantic loan is a process of borrowing semantic meaning from another language, very similar to the formation of calques. In this case, however, the complete word in the borrowing language already exists; the change is that its meaning is extended to include another meaning its existing translation has in the lending language. Calques, loanwords and semantic loans are often grouped roughly under the phrase "borrowing". Semantic loans often occur when two languages are in close contact, and takes various forms. The source and target word may be cognates, which may or may not share any contemporary meaning in common; they may be an existing loan translation or parallel construction ; or they may be unrelated words that share an existing meaning.

Homophonic translation renders a text in one language into a near-homophonic text in another language, usually with no attempt to preserve the original meaning of the text. In one homophonic translation, for example, the English "sat on a wall" is rendered as French "s'étonne aux Halles"[setɔnoɑl]. More generally, homophonic transformation renders a text into a near-homophonic text in the same or another language: e.g., "recognize speech" could become "wreck a nice beach".

<i>Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew</i>

Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew is a scholarly book written in the English language by linguist Ghil'ad Zuckermann, published in 2003 by Palgrave Macmillan. The book proposes a socio-philological framework for the analysis of "camouflaged borrowing" such as phono-semantic matching. It introduces for the first time a classification for "multisourced neologisms", new words that are based on two or more sources at the same time.



  1. Knapp, Robbin D. 27 January 2011. "Robb: German English Words." Robb: Human Languages.
  2. Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2003). Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN   1-4039-1723-X.
  3. Smith, May. The Influence of French on Eighteenth-century Literary Russian. pp. 2930.
  4. Fowler, H. W. [1908] 1999. "Vocabulary § Foreign Words." chap. 1 in The King’s English (2nd ed.). New York:
  5. Gilliot, Claude. "The Authorship of the Qur'ān." In The Qur'an in its Historical Context, edited by G. S. Reynolds. p. 97.
  6. 1 2 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.
  7. Durkin, Philip. The Oxford Guide to Etymology. § 5.1.4
  8. "flea market", The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, fourth edition, 2000 Archived 2007-03-11 at the Wayback Machine
  9. 1 2 3 4 Christopher Kasparek, "The Translator's Endless Toil", The Polish Review , vol. XXVIII, no. 2, 1983, p. 83.
  10. "Þýða í Enska - Íslenska-Enska Orðabók". Glosbe. Retrieved 2020-04-25.