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Not to be confused with Literal translation.

In linguistics, a calque (/ˈkælk/) or loan translation is a word or phrase borrowed from another language by literal, word-for-word, 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" itself is a loanword from the French noun calque ("tracing; imitation; close copy"); the verb calquer means "to trace; to copy, to imitate closely"; papier calque is "tracing paper".[1] The word "loanword" is a calque of the German word Lehnwort, just as "loan translation" is a calque of Lehnübersetzung.[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.

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-existing word or morpheme in the target language).

Types of calque[edit]

One system classifies calques into five groups:[4]

  • the semantic calque, where additional meanings of the source word are transferred to the word with the same primary meaning in the target language;
  • the phraseological calque, where idiomatic phrases are translated word-for-word;
  • the syntactic calque, where a syntactic function or construction in the source language is imitated in the target language;
  • the loan-translation, where a word is translated morpheme-by-morpheme into another language;
  • the morphological calque, where the inflection of a word is transferred.

This terminology is not universal. Some authors call a morphological calque a "morpheme-by-morpheme translation".[5]


Main article: List of calques

Phraseological calque: "flea market"[edit]

The common English phrase, "flea market", is a phraseological calque of the French "marché aux puces" ("market with fleas"),[6] as are the Czech "bleší trh", the Dutch "vlooienmarkt", the Finnish "kirpputori", the German "Flohmarkt", the Hungarian "bolhapiac", the Italian "mercatino delle pulci", the Polish "pchli targ", the Serbian "buvlja pijaca", the Spanish "mercado de pulgas", the Turkish "bit pazarı", and so on.

Loan translation: "skyscraper"[edit]

An example of a morpheme-by-morpheme loan-translation is the French expression, "gratte-ciel" ("scrapes-sky"), modeled after the English "skyscraper". Similarly in:

Loan translation: "translation"[edit]

The word translation, etymologically, means a "carrying across" or "bringing across": the Latin translatio derives from trans, "across" + latus, "borne".[7]

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").[7]

European languages of the Romance, Germanic,[8] and Slavic branches have calqued their terms for the concept of translation on these Latin models.[7]

Semantic calque: "mouse"[edit]

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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The New Cassell's French Dictionary: French-English, English-French, New York, Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1962, p. 122.
  2. ^ Robb: German English Words
  3. ^ Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2003). Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 1-4039-1723-X. 
  4. ^ May Smith, The Influence of French on Eighteenth-century Literary Russian, p. 29-30.
  5. ^ Claude Gilliot, "The Authorship of the Qur'ān" in Gabriel Said Reynolds, The Qur'an in its Historical Context, p. 97
  6. ^ "flea market", The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, fourth edition, 2000
  7. ^ a b c Christopher Kasparek, "The Translator's Endless Toil", The Polish Review, vol. XXVIII, no. 2, 1983, p. 83.
  8. ^ Except in the case of the Dutch equivalent, "vertaling"—a "re-language-ing": ver + talen = "to change the language".
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "leading across" or "putting across"
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "putting across"


External links[edit]