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In linguistics, a calque (/ˈkælk/) or loan translation is a word or phrase borrowed from another language by literal, word-for-word (Latin: verbum pro verbo) or root-for-root translation.

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" is a loanword from a French noun, and derives from the verb "calquer" ("to trace", "to copy").[1] "Loanword" is a calque of the German "Lehnwort", just as "loan translation" is of "Lehnübersetzung".[2]

Proving that a word is a calque sometimes requires more documentation than does an untranslated loanword, since 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 language proposed to be borrowing, or the calque contains less obvious imagery.

Calquing is distinct from phono-semantic matching.[3] 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-existent word or morpheme in the target language).


"Flea market"[edit]

The common English phrase "flea market" is a phrase calque that literally translates the French "marché aux puces" ("market of fleas").[4] The German word "Flohmarkt" and the Dutch word "vlooienmarkt" also correspond.


An example in the opposite direction, from English to French, shows how a compound word may be calqued by first breaking it down into its component roots. The French "gratte-ciel" is a word-coinage inspired by the English "skyscraper" — "gratter" means "to scrape", and "ciel" means "sky". Many languages have constructed their own calques:


The word "translation", etymologically, means a "carrying across" or "bringing across": the Latin "translatio" derives from "transferre" ("trans", "across" + "ferre", "to bear").[5]

Some European languages have calqued their words for the concept of "translation" on the kindred Latin "traducere" ("to lead across" or "to bring across", from "trans", "across" + "ducere", "to lead" or "to bring").[5]

European languages of the Romance, Germanic and Slavic branches have calqued their terms for the concept of translation on these Latin models.[5]

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