29 ago. 2006

The phenemenon of the *calque* is quite interesting. What starts out as a literal translation comes to form a part of the target language. "Ciencia-ficción" is "science fiction." It started its life as a calque from the English, but now it is simply part of Spanish. It is one level of abstraction above the mere loan word. It is a loan phrase. There is no attempt to make the Spanish phrase "ciencia-ficción" follow the typical syntax or morphology of Spanish. [ It sounds quite ugly in a way. Compounds of two nouns stuck together are not unknown, but usually they imply an identity. Wolfman is a man also a wolf, hence "hombre-lobo." But a dog house is not a dog and a house at the same time, hence it is "casa para el perro" or "casa de perro." It cannot be *"casa-perro."]

If one language were completely calqued from another, translation would become virtually automatic, the transfer of set phrases from one code to another. The calque thus demonstrates what translation is not, usually. Their aesthetic failings also demonstrate that the creative aspect of translation (in other words, its ability to create new words and meanings in the target language) can clash with a more aesthetic sensibility, attuned to more idiomatic phrasings. The calque is only noticeable as a calque when there is some new way of using the language, some innovation in the combination of words. It is not how the language would have chosen to express the concept, if left to its own devices. It shows that decisive influence of another tongue. Usually, calquing is seen negatively, as an improper influence of one language on another.

Gil de Biedma's concept of "palabras de familia gastadas tibiamente." In other words, words used so much, in circumstances so ordinary, that they have acquired a familial warmth, but at the same time are almost worn out from use. That would be one opposite of "translatorese." Yet what if in one's family there were a lot of calques used, as in many bilingual situations? Would those calques also be be warmly-worn-out words-of-the-family?

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