In linguistics, a calque () 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 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]

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.

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.

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 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]

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]