Translation Techniques: Calque

By Chiara Grassilli
In Translation
May 30th, 2016
1 Comment

One of the most useful translation techniques: calque

Today we are going to explain one of the most popular translation techniques: calque

In linguistics, a calque is actually a word or phrase borrowed from another language by literal, word-for-word translation. The term calque is borrowed from French and it derives from the verb calquer which means to copy, to trace. More specifically, we use the verb to calque when speaking about borrowing a word or phrase from another language while translating its components so as to create a new lexeme in the target language.


It is difficult sometimes to prove that a particular word is a calque. This often requires a lot of documentation compared to an untranslated term because, in some cases, a similar phrase might have arisen in both languages independently. This is less likely to happen 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. 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).


Calques are often seen in specialized or internationalized fields such as quality assurance (aseguramiento de calidad, assurance qualité taken from English). Examples that have been absorbed into English include standpoint and beer garden from German Standpunkt and Biergarten; breakfast from French déjeuner (which now means lunch in Europe, but maintains the same meaning of breakfast in Québec). Some calques can become widely accepted in the target language (such as standpoint, beer garden and breakfast and Spanish peso mosca and Casa Blanca from English flyweight and White House).


The meaning of other calques can be rather obscure for most people, especially when they relate to specific vocations or subjects such as science and law. Solución de compromiso is a Spanish legal term taken from the English compromise solution and although Spanish attorneys understand it, the meaning is not readily understood by the layman. An unsuccessful calque can be extremely unnatural, and can cause unwanted humour, often interpreted as indicating the lack of expertise of the translator in the target language.


There are 4 types of calque: 


1. Paronymous calque or loan word: the result of an incorrect correspondence between two words that have similar forms or etymologies but that have evolved differently in their respective languages to the point that they now have different meanings.

2. Orthographic calque: normally appears in the transliteration of the names of people, places, and ethnicities. Spelling and writing conventions of the source language that make little or no sense in the target language are copied without too much attention.

3. Typographic calque: takes place when typographical conventions that only exist in the source language are transferred to the new language. For example, English’s employment of capital letters has started to creep into Spanish, as well as the use of italics for emphasis and certain uses of quotation marks.

4. Syntactic or structural calque: is the product of erroneous connection between the elements of a sentence or phrase. The result is the creation of a third language; in this instance, Spanglish.

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About "" Has 117 Posts

Since an early age I have been passionate about languages. I hold a Master's degree in Translation and Interpreting, and I have worked as a freelance translator for several years. I specialize in Marketing, Digital Marketing, Web and Social Media. I love blogging and I also run the blog

One Response to “Translation Techniques: Calque”

  1. m says:

    Very informative but very few examples especially in the types of calque section.

Leave a Reply to m Cancel reply