Last updated

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, to create a new lexeme in the target language. For instance, the English word "skyscraper" was calqued 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 (later "mercredi" in modern French), was borrowed into Late Proto-Germanic as the "Day of Wōđanaz" (*Wodanesdag), which became Wōdnesdæg 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. This terminology is not universal. [5]

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 雷达 (pinyin :léidá), [8] which literally means "to arrive (as fast) as thunder".


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 Irish but leaving the second half unchanged. Other examples include "liverwurst" (< German Leberwurst ) and "apple strudel" (< German Apfelstrudel ).[ citation needed ]


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" (), making shǔbiāo "mouse cursor" (simplified Chinese :鼠标; traditional Chinese :鼠標; pinyin :shǔbiāo).[ citation needed ]. At least 35 languages have their own versions of the English term.


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 calque the French expression directly or indirectly through another language.

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.

Some Germanic and Slavic languages derived their words for "translation" from words meaning "carrying across" or "bringing across", calquing from the Latin translātiō or trādūcō. [11]


Since at least 1894, according to the Trésor de la langue française informatisé , the French term calque has been used in its linguistic sense, namely in a publication by Louis Duvau: [12]

Un autre phénomène d'hybridation est la création dans une langue d'un mot nouveau, dérivé ou composé à l'aide d'éléments existant déja dans cette langue, et ne se distinguant en rien par l'aspect extérieur des mots plus anciens, mais qui, en fait, n'est que le calque d'un mot existant dans la langue maternelle de celui qui s'essaye à un parler nouveau. [...] nous voulons rappeler seulement deux ou trois exemples de ces calques d'expressions, parmi les plus certains et les plus frappants.
Another phenomenon of hybridization is the creation in a language of a new word, derived or composed with the help of elements already existing in that language, and which is not distinguished in any way by the external aspect of the older words, but which, in fact, is only the copy (calque) of a word existing in the mother tongue of the one who tries out a new language. [...] we want to recall only two or three examples of these copies (calques) of expressions, among the most certain and the most striking. [...]

Since at least 1926, the term calque has been attested in English through a publication by the linguist Otakar Vočadlo  [ cs ]: [13]

[...] Such imitative forms are called calques (or décalques) by French philologists, and this is a frequent method in coining abstract terminology, whether nouns or verbs.

See also

Related Research Articles

Lexicology is the branch of linguistics that analyzes the lexicon of a specific language. A word is the smallest meaningful unit of a language that can stand on its own, and is made up of small components called morphemes and even smaller elements known as phonemes, or distinguishing sounds. Lexicology examines every feature of a word – including formation, spelling, origin, usage, and definition.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Loanword</span> Word borrowed from a donor language and incorporated into a recipient language

A loanword is a word at least partly assimilated from one language into another language. 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. Loanwords from languages with different scripts are usually transliterated, but they are not translated. Additionally, loanwords may be adapted to phonology, phonotactics, orthography, and morphology of the target language. When a loanword is fully adapted to the rules of the target language, it is distinguished from native words of the target language only by its origin. However, often the adaptation is incomplete, so loanwords may conserve specific features distinguishing them from native words of the target language: loaned phonemes and sound combinations, partial or total conserving of the original spelling, foreign plural or case forms or indeclinability.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Synonym</span> 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 a given language. For example, in the English language, 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 only 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.

Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Someone who engages in this study is called a linguist. See also the Outline of linguistics, the List of phonetics topics, the List of linguists, and the List of cognitive science topics. Articles related to linguistics include:

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 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.

An anglicism is a word or construction borrowed from English by another language.

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

Gairaigo is Japanese for "loan word", and indicates a transcription into Japanese. In particular, the word usually refers to a Japanese word of foreign origin that was not borrowed in ancient times from Old or Middle Chinese, but in modern times, primarily from English, Portuguese, Dutch, and modern Chinese dialects, such as Standard Chinese and Cantonese. These are primarily written in the katakana phonetic script, with a few older terms written in Chinese characters (kanji); the latter are known as ateji.

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.

Literal translation, direct translation or word-for-word translation, is a translation of a text done by translating each word separately, without looking at how the words are used together in a phrase or sentence.

Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary is a layer of some 3,000 monosyllabic morphemes of the Vietnamese language borrowed from Literary Chinese with consistent pronunciations based on "Annamese" Middle Chinese. Compounds using these morphemes are used extensively in cultural and technical vocabulary. Together with Sino-Korean and Sino-Japanese vocabularies, Sino-Vietnamese has been used in the reconstruction of the sound categories of Middle Chinese. Samuel Martin grouped the three together as "Sino-xenic". There is also an Old Sino-Vietnamese layer consisting of a few hundred words borrowed individually from Chinese in earlier periods. These words are treated by speakers as native. More recent loans from southern varieties of Chinese, usually names of foodstuffs such as lạp xưởng 'Chinese sausage', are not treated as Sino-Vietnamese.

Metatypy is a type of morphosyntactic and semantic language change brought about by language contact involving multilingual speakers. The term was coined by linguist Malcolm Ross.

Reborrowing is the process where a word travels from one language to another and then back to the originating language in a different form or with a different meaning. This path is indicated by A → B → A, where A is the originating language, and can take many forms. A reborrowed word is sometimes called a Rückwanderer.

In linguistics, lexicalization is the process of adding words, set phrases, or word patterns to a language's lexicon.

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.



  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'ān." In The Qur'an in its Historical Context, edited by G. S. Reynolds. p. 97.
  8. 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. ISBN   9783110231328
  9. Durkin, Philip. The Oxford Guide to Etymology. § 5.1.4
  10. "flea market". Bartleby. Archived from the original on March 11, 2007.
  11. Christopher Kasparek, "The Translator's Endless Toil", The Polish Review , vol. XXVIII, no. 2, 1983, p. 83.
  12. Duvau, Louis (1894). "Expressions hybrides". Mémoires de la Société de linguistique de Paris. Paris. 8: 191.
  13. Vočadlo, Otakar (1926). "Slav Linguistic Purity and the Use of Foreign Words". The Slavonic Review. 5 (14): 353. JSTOR   4202081.