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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. For instance, the English word "skyscraper" has been calqued in dozens of other languages, [1] combining words for "sky" and "scrape" in each language, as for example, German : Wolkenkratzer, Portuguese: Arranha-céu. 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]


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. [3]

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: [4]

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 ) [10] and "apple strudel" (< German Apfelstrudel ). [11]


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 ] Another example is the Spanish word ratón that means both the animal and the computer mouse.[ citation needed ]


The common English phrase "flea market" is a loan translation of the French marché aux puces ("market with fleas"). [12] At least 22 other languages calque the French expression directly or indirectly through another language.

The word loanword is a calque of the German noun Lehnwort. In contrast, the term calque is a loanword, from the French noun calque ("tracing, imitation, close copy"). [13]

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 "scrape", "scratch", "pierce", "sweep", "kiss", 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. [14]


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: [15]

Since at least 1926, the term calque has been attested in English through a publication by the linguist Otakar Vočadlo  [ cs ]: [16]

[...] 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.

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A lexicon is the vocabulary of a 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'.

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.

An idiom is a phrase or expression that usually presents a figurative, non-literal meaning attached to the phrase. Some phrases which become figurative idioms, however, do retain the phrase's literal meaning. Categorized as formulaic language, an idiom's figurative meaning is different from the literal meaning. Idioms occur frequently in all languages; in English alone there are an estimated twenty-five million idiomatic expressions.

<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, through the process of borrowing. Borrowing is a metaphorical term that is well established in the linguistic field despite its acknowledged descriptive flaws: nothing is taken away from the donor language and there is no expectation of returning anything.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Synonym</span> Words or phrases of 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:

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:

Folk etymology – also known as (generative) popular etymology, analogical reformation, (morphological)reanalysis and etymological reinterpretation – is a change in a word or phrase resulting from the replacement of an unfamiliar form by a more familiar one through popular usage. The form or the meaning of an archaic, foreign, or otherwise unfamiliar word is reinterpreted as resembling more familiar words or morphemes.

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.

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 they take 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.

In linguistics, specifically the sub-field of lexical semantics, the concept of lexical innovation includes the use of neologism or new meanings in order to introduce new terms into a language's lexicon. Most commonly, this is found in technical disciplines where new concepts require names, which often takes the form of jargon. For example, in the subjects of sociology or philosophy, there is an increased technicalization in terminology in the English language for different concepts over time. Many novel terms or meanings in a language are created as a result of translation from a source language, in which certain concepts were first introduced.



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  11. "apple strudel" . Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press.(Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  12. "flea market". Bartleby. Archived from the original on March 11, 2007.
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  15. Duvau, Louis (1894). "Expressions hybrides". Mémoires de la Société de linguistique de Paris. 8. Paris: 191.
  16. Vočadlo, Otakar (1926). "Slav Linguistic Purity and the Use of Foreign Words". The Slavonic Review. 5 (14): 353. JSTOR   4202081.