LINGUIST List 4.573

Mon 26 Jul 1993

Disc: Epicene Pronouns, Farang

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. , epicene pronouns
  2. Gwyn Williams, More Replies on "FARANG" and related terms

Message 1: epicene pronouns

Date: Thu, 15 Jul 93 12:17 CDT
From: <>
Subject: epicene pronouns

I've never understood why people upset about generic `he' are unwilling to
use the perfectly good `they'. This has the advantage of avoiding
sexism and the incalculable advantage of being what people actually
say in colloquial English anyway, e.g.

Everyone loves their mother.

This sort of sentence seems to be universally disdained by those who
have considered the problem because `everyone may only be referred to
with a singular pronoun.' This claim is obviously false on a descriptive
level, since the reverse is true in colloquial English.

But for some reason that is mysterious to me, even linguists tend to be
prescriptivists on this subject, and insist on a singular pronoun here, leading
the problem of sexism.

Two caveats:
-- I would not be surprised if someone sensible has already suggested this,
but I don't see that the suggestion is being taken very seriously.
-- I will admit that there may be some sentences where the plural pronoun
sounds odd, e.g ?An assistant professor should prepare themselves carefully
for tenure consideration. However, I maintain that the plural pronoun is
appropriate, colloquial, and non-sexist in most of the contexts where
neologistic pronouns have been proposed.

Aaron Broadwell
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Message 2: More Replies on "FARANG" and related terms

Date: Wed, 21 Jul 1993 15:47:42 More Replies on "FARANG" and related terms
From: Gwyn Williams <gwynIPIED.TU.AC.TH>
Subject: More Replies on "FARANG" and related terms

 Subsequent to my earlier postings to Linguist List (4.424, 4.459, and
4.492), the interest has continued and several more replies have come in.
Many thanks to all for their contributions.

Gwyn Williams <>

On Mon, 21 Jun 1993 From: Stavros Macrakis <> wrote:

"Vlach" or "aroumanian" is indeed a Romance language spoken in Greece.
Most linguists consider it a dialect of Romanian, although some would
like to consider it a distinct language (especially in Greece...).

"Aroumanian" is the "polite" or "scholarly" term, "vlach" having
become denigratory in many people's speech (= "rube, bumpkin", more or
less), although it has a perfectly respectable origin, as you point

It would be interesting to delineate what exactly "Frank" means in
various places. For instance, where exactly was it used as a term for
one's own group? ("I am a Frank") Where does one get far enough away
from the Near Eastern definition (= Crusader, more or less) so that
(for instance) Orthodox Christians and Jews could be considered
Franks? etc.

On Tue, 22 Jun 93 wrote:

In Marathi the word "phiringi" means outsider or foreigner and could
be related to "farang". The same word might exist in Hindi too, but I'm
not sure about that.

On Fri, 25 Jun 93 Jacqueline Lecarme <> wrote:

The term is widespread in the Horn of Africa. In Somali, a
hamito-semitic (or afro-asiatic) language, it is spelled out *ferenji*
in the national orthography, and is to be translated simply as
*foreigner*. To especially refer to a white person, there is another
term (*gaal*, literally meaning *infidel*, without any racist
connotation). The feminine form *ferenjiyad* indicates quite clearly
that the word is borrowed from Arabic. According to the somali
tradition, *ferenji* goes back to the crusaders and contains the concept
of *Frank*.

On Wed, 14 Jul 93 David Gil <ELLGILD%NUSVM.bitnetCUNYVM.CUNY.EDU> wrote:

For the last two months I was away from email (being a farang in
various southeast Asian countries), so I only recently came across the
interesting discussion of the etymology of "farang" on the linguist list.
Most of what I had to offer has already been said, but here are a few
minor contributions to the discussion, ordered from west to east:

(In the phonetic transcriptions, [E] denotes a schewa; [N] a retroflex
nasal; [n>] a velar nasal.)


In (rather old-fashioned) Hebrew slang, [fren>k] is a derogatory term
for a Jew of Sephardi (ie. North African or Middle Eastern, as opposed
to European) provenance. So in Hebrew, the term has undergone a
semantic switcheroo, referring to someone of oriental origin; though
it has preserved its derogatory quality present in Thai and

A couple of further queries for any Hebrew-speaking readers: (a)
What is the immediate origin of the term? (It doesn't seem to be
Arabic. Rachel Giora, my only Singaporean informant for Hebrew,
suggested that it might be from some version of "French", given that
many oriental Jews are francophones.) (b) Since I don't have this
word in my (practically native) active competence, I'm not sure
about this, but I seem to recall that the term is/was used specifically
for oriental Jews who adopted various occidental mannerisms, such
as clothing: is this the case, or just a figment of my imagination? (If
true, this would bring the term in line with its many cognates


Contra Caroline Wiltshire and Harold Schiffman, my two Malayalam
informants here in Singapore, Tara and K.P. Mohanan, are familiar
with neither [farangi] nor [firangi] but rather [paran>ki], with the
more specific gloss "Portuguese". The word also appears in the
compounds [paran>kimaan>n>a] "Portuguese mango" meaning
"cashew fruit", and (I bet some readers will like this)
[paran>kippuNNE] "Portuguese ulcer" meaning "syphilis".


Not surprisingly, during a recent visit to Vientiane, I heard the term
[faran>] being used (sorry, but I wouldn't be able to provide an
accurate phonetic transcription).


Only negative evidence here. No cognate in Tagalog (the local term is
"Americano", often shortened to "Cano"). No cognate in Peranakan
Malay, the dialect spoken by the long-term Chinese residents of the
Malacca straits, who, given their propensity for commerce, might
have perhaps been expected to borrow the word from the Persian
traders. Finally, my Minangkabau informant was unable to offer any
cognates; again, since this language is spoken by Moslems in Western
Sumatra, they would presumably have be among the first
Austronesians to borrow such a word.

So it looks as though the word has failed to penetrate the
Austronesian phylum. (With the doubtful exception of Samoan.) As
for Standard Malay/Indonesian "barang", meaning "goods", I'm no
Austronesianist, but this strikes me as being a rather weak
etymology. Can any comparative Austronesianists out there shed
any light?


Again, for the record, only negative evidence: no cognates in the
Singaporean dialects of Mandarin, Hokkien, Cantonese and Teochew.

Gwyn Williams
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