Let's have an English phrase "let's have" and the Czech equivalent "mějme". Perhaps, at some point in the past, someone was translating a math textbook and didn't know how to translate "let's have" in the sense "assume" and thus translates the phrase literally as "let us all possess". But when Czechs get used to this "mathematical use" of the words, they start to form a phrase that could even force out the Czech word for assume - "předpokládat".

This is probably just a construct but I have a hypothesis that by this very mechanism, bilingualism might lead towards unifying the meanings of the set of words used in a vocabulary.

Is there such a tendency?

I found out the literal translation is called a calque but I'm asking for the process of merging vocabularies. Is there a name for this phenomenon?

  • 1
    The English "let's have" and "assume" aren't exact synonyms—they're close, but not the same. Try changing your first sentence to "Assume an English phrase…", and it carries the connotation that probably no such actual phrase exists. Is the same true for Czech "mějme" and "předpokládat"?
    – abarnert
    Jan 17 '19 at 9:09
  • Anyway, I think either Lakoff or someone working within his semantic tradition argued that metaphorical extensions of sense can be borrowed between languages, and gave examples, which seems to be what you're getting at, but I don't have a paper or book to cite, only a vague memory of maybe reading one decades ago. I also don't know of a name for the phenomenon. And, if I remember correctly, he wasn't so much arguing that it happens, as setting up to argue that even if it does happen, that doesn't preclude the possibility that some extensions are universal to human cognition.
    – abarnert
    Jan 17 '19 at 9:13
  • @abarnert The Czech versions are 100% equivalent in math and cannot be used as synonyms in other meanings (actually, mějme doesn't have a meaning outside math).
    – Probably
    Jan 17 '19 at 9:58
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    It's worth noting that English has words similar to "mějme", in that their use in math jargon doesn't work anywhere but math (and maybe closely related things). You can say "Let x and y be real numbers. Then x^y is a complex number." But you can't say "Let Goldilocks be a little girl. Goldilocks was walking through the forest." In non-math-jargon talk, "let" just doesn't mean anything like "assume for the sake of argument"; the sentence can only mean something like "Please allow Goldilocks to act like a little girl". And "given" is a near-synonym to "let" in math, but not otherwise.
    – abarnert
    Jan 17 '19 at 21:47
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    @Probably mějme has plenty of use outside math, it is the regular first person plural imperative. Mějme se rádi. Mějme na paměti. Mějme radost. Mějme pochopení. Při štípání u špalku mějme roztažené nohy...
    – Vladimir F
    Jan 21 '19 at 17:34

This obviously happens, but it's not necessarily from grammatically similar languages, rather from culturally close or simply influential ones.


In linguistics, a calque /kælk/ or loan translation is a word or phrase borrowed from another language by literal, word-for-word or root-for-root translation.


A semantic loan is a process of borrowing semantic meaning (rather than lexical items) from another language, very similar to the formation of calques.

An example in Slavistics would be a word like Russian впечатление, which came from Latin inpressio via French and German, not via a grammatically close language like Ruthenian.

Science and maths, being relatively international fields, have a very great proportion of such loans.

If the proportion of such lexical and structural loans reaches significant proportions, then we can speak of a Sprachbund.


A sprachbund (German: [ˈʃpʁaːxbʊnt], "federation of languages") – also known as a linguistic area, area of linguistic convergence, diffusion area or language crossroads – is a group of languages that have common features resulting from geographical proximity and language contact.


Language contact occurs when speakers of two or more languages or varieties interact and influence each other.

  • That's a description a level lower than merging the vocabularies.
    – Probably
    Jan 17 '19 at 14:13
  • 1
    The point is simply that 1) it's not about grammatically/phylogenetically similar languages 2) Let's have is not used in English maths but if we use a real example of a calque or semantic loan then it's rather clear what's happening. Jan 17 '19 at 16:00
  • 1) Sure, I just thought it would much easier for the phenomenon to emerge for two similar languages 2) Hm, interesting. But can you use it to declare an axiom, tho?
    – Probably
    Jan 17 '19 at 17:04
  • No, usually they just say Let... be or Let... equal eg Let A be the set of all bottle openers, and B the set of all wines... . Anyway the burden is on you to show that English was a significant influence on Czech for this field, the more realistic candidates are basically German, French, Latin and Russian. Jan 17 '19 at 19:52
  • In German it's Sei... or Es sei... Which in Czech would be something like By..., Buď... or Budiž... (It sounds archaic in modern German too.) Jan 17 '19 at 19:56

Looking at the two alternatives, mějme and předpokládat it is pretty clear that, given the relative frequency of the expression, the shorter one wins over the longer one. Only language purists complain, this is the way language change works in practice.

In translatology, features of the source language appearing in the target language after translation are named shining through (cf. Teich, E. (2003), Cross-Linguistic Variation in System and Text: A Methodology for the Investigation of Translations and Comparable Texts. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.). Shining Through is one of the most salient features of Translationese, the variety of (a) language produced by translation from another language.

  • I believe the word translation very directly shows the same connotation, viz trans ~ through; Although lat- is difficult Latin; For a possible Shining through cf Ger übersetzen "id."; Überlieferung "tradition"; übertragen "translate, metaphoric, carry over" (cp Tracht "traditional costume; customary", tracht Prügel "slapping sense into s.o.", trächtig "pregnant", viz gen-, gne-, prognosis; betrachten "conceive"); However difficult Atlas, Atlantic to translate, a hypothesis relates it to "burn, shine". Is translation a translation? Is Shining Through shining through?
    – vectory
    Aug 8 '19 at 19:34

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