LINGUIST List 4.459

Tue 15 Jun 1993

Sum: Farang

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  • Gwyn Williams, Repiles: How widespread is "farang"?

    Message 1: Repiles: How widespread is "farang"?

    Date: Mon, 14 Jun 1993 17:2p3:47Repiles: How widespread is "farang"?
    From: Gwyn Williams <>
    Subject: Repiles: How widespread is "farang"?

    Dear fellow linguists,

    I had a very quick response to my query about 'farang' and related terms. My query on May 26 was:

    >The last couple of weeks have seen an interesting discussion on >soc.culture.thai USENET newsgroup about the origin of the word "farang" >(Caucasian, Westerner) prompted by an observation by Ahmed F. Hosny on May 17.

    > On Mon, 17 May 1993, Ahmed F. Hosny wrote: > > > > Just an observation on the similarity of some words in different languages. > > In arabic (in Egypt and in some North African countries) "Afrangui" also > > means a foreigner of obvious western appearance. [...] > > I wonder if "farang" and "afrangui" derive from the same or similar > > source or is it just a coincidence? > > Serge Thion. 1993. "On Some Cambodian Words." Australian National >University Thai-Yunnan Project Newsletter. Canberra: Research School of >Pacific Studies. Number 20, March 1993, 18-23. In this paper Thion traces the >word back to the Germanic 'Franks'. The word spread through Muslim trade >routes after the Crusades into Africa, India, and Southeast Asia. [...] > >Another source is Jimmy Harris. 1986. "The Persian connection: Four loanwords >in Siamese." Pasaa Vol.XVI, No.1 (June 1986). Bangkok: Chulalongkorn >University Language Institute, 9-12. This paper traces the probable immediate >source of the word in Thai to Persian traders who were established in Siam by >the 16th century. The Persian word was 'farangg'. > > We would like to know how far widespread this word is in Southeast Asia (eg., >Malaysia, Indonesia, etc; whether it occurs in other Austroasiatic and >Sino-Tibetan languages) and other regions (eg., Arab nations, Africa, the >Pacific?). Also, is the origin of these other words in these languages 'Frank' >or 'franc,ais'?


    The replies follow. I have taken the liberty of commenting here in the hope of eliciting a wider response.

    On Wed, 26 May 1993 "Donn Bayard, Anthropology, Otago" <> wrote:

    > [...] Finally, /fala`ng/: it was very good to read somebody else's view >who has arrived at exactly the same conclusion independently. Yep: as far >as I can tell, /fala`ng/ came from Indic, and I'd guess Persian "feringhi" >(cf. "cabbage" [ka-la`m]: the Farsi word is "galam"; or the common term [at >least as used by Farang back a few centuries ago] "Shahbandar"). It could >have well come in in Ayutthaya times, when there were a lot of Persians >running around. And yes, I'd guess it goes back to European, pre-Crusades >roots; I doubt very much it's Proto-Indo-Iranian!! Just briefly, I'd guess >paalagi/papalangi/vaalagi/papa-'aa ("four layers"--Rarotongan)/ paakehaa are >simply a coincidence, although I do think there is more than a fair bit of >truth to Benedict's Austro-Tai hypothesis. [...]

    On Tue, 1 Jun 93 Jorge Hankamer <hankling.UCSC.EDU> wrote:

    >I have no idea if it's related, but the Samoan word for caucasian foreigner >is "palangi".

    >Jorge Hankamer >

    >From my childhood in a mainly Polynesian neighbourhood in Auckland, New Zealand, I was familiar with this word. It had become widespread and was not used only by the Samoan community. The similarity with the Thai word 'farang' immediately caught my attention when I first came to Thailand. Perhaps it is chance that this word in Samoan is so similar in form and meaning to the word in so many different locations. I still have my suspicions: it is too freakish a coincidence to be chance. I would think it was very unusual for such a complex form ( three syllables CVCVC(V)) to coincide by chance. Does anyone know the origin of the form "palangi" in Samoan and/or other Polynesian languages?

    On Tue, 1 Jun 1993 Stavros Macrakis <> wrote:

    >"Frank" was for a long time the standard term for western Europeans in >the Mediterranean. I believe it dates to the Crusades. Greeks used >and use it to mean the Latins (Catholics) as opposed the Orthodox. >The "g" pronunciation of "k" is a standard phenomenon in Greek and >other languages in the context n-g. The "i" of "ifrangi" is a >standard phenomenon in Turkish and Arabic, which don't like such >initial clusters. Cf. my name (Stavros), which comes out as Istavros >in Arabic or Turkish. Note also that some Arabic dialects have "g" >(notably Egyptian) for standard "j". > >I don't know why anyone would trace it to "francais", which is after >all phonetically "franse" and has no "g" sound at all. Or does Thai >have a rule s->g .... :-)

    It is interesting to get more information on the term in the "Far West". I'm sorry, my transcription was not transparent. The 'ng' in 'farang' is a velar nasal. Interestingly, Thais often perceive French nasal 'a' [a~], as in 'an' "year", as [ang], where 'ng' is a velar nasal. In addition, Thais typically drop the final 's' as it is not a final sound in Thai. Finally, [r] in clusters is typically dropped. Hence, 'France' may be pronounced as [fOOng]. It was these phonological processes of borrowing in Thai that initially made me curious about the origin of 'farang' in Thai. The belief in Thailand that 'farang' comes from 'franc,ais' is pure folk etymology.

    On Tue, 1 Jun 1993 Harold Schiffman <> wrote:

    >I'm glad you're asking this question, because I became interested in it >when I was in Thailand and other SEAsian places last January. As a >Dravidianist familiar with the word Farengi, farangi, pirangi (Tamil >version) etc. in India, I have always been told it derived from Frank by >way of Arabic and/or other middleastern languages; the source of Francais >or French or whatever would be too recent. As I moved around the region I >found the various things you've mentioned in VN, Cambodian,e tc. In >Indonesian etc. they have orang asin, and don't seem to know >farang/firangi etc. which I find strange; I wonder myself if any other >Indonesian languages have it instead of orang asin or equivalent. I'd like >to hear what kind of answers you get. >H. Schiffman

    Good, authoritative confirmation in Dravidian. Well, Austronesianists? Is there a term something like 'farang' in Indonesia, oe elsewhere? If 'palangi' in Samoan is not chance resemblance, then there should be a bridge from Asia to Polynesia. What were the trade connections?

    On Tue, 1 Jun 1993 Jim Jewett <> wrote:

    >Isn't francais from frank? Or are you trying to find the path it took?

    'Yes' to both questions. Any further info on the path it took?

    On Wed, 02 Jun "John E. Koontz" <> wrote:

    >I have no formal knowledge of the extent of ferenghi and related terms (i.e., >none based on the literature), but I had been told by Scott DeLancey that it >was found in Thailand, and I knew it was also in India and the Middle East. >I have assumed that it derives from Frank, rendered into Arabic and spread >then through Muslim networks. It plainly isn't a very good phonetic match >for franc,ais, but, on the other hand, franc,ais is just Frank run through >the process of developing modern French out of Pre-French. The French are >(terminologically, at least) the modern Franks.

    IMO the path of the term from Europe to Asia through Muslim networks is now pretty clear, if not the exact details and time frame. If anyone wishes to see the two sources that I mentioned in my original query, they are available from me.

    On Wed, 2 Jun 1993 Hartmut Haberland <> wrote:

    >I don't know if this is relevant, but in Greek, there is still the concept auf >'Frank' (frangos) used for Westerners in general (no particular reference to >Frenchman). I have heard that this goes back to the crusaders. The prefix >frango- can refer to various 'Western' things; Frangosirianos is the term for >a Catholic inhabitant of Syros (Sira), the main island of the Cyclades, and >frangovlakhika is a (certainly) new term for using Latin letters for Greek in >e-mail (vlakhika is actually the name of a minority language in Greece, also >known as Aromounian, but it also can mean 'boorish', 'uneducated', and here >probably 'gibberish, goobledegook'). >In older slang the Greeks used to refer to the drakhma (coin) as 'ena frango', >which some people think is related to this use of 'frangos', wheras I think it >because Greece used to be in a monetary union with Switzerland, France and >Bellgiumn which (at that time) meant that one drakhma was exactly the same >value as one (French, Swiss, Belgian) Franc. >Hartmut Haberland

    The term in Thai is also used productively in compounds to denote "western" things, eg., "man farang" is "potato".

    On Wed, 2 Jun 93 wrote:

    >I was interested in your posting on "farang" and similar words for foreigner. >I've heard the word "farangi" in Malayalam, with the explanation that it was >borrowed from the Portuguese who visited in the 16th century. > >They also have ferengi on Star Trek! >Caroline Wiltshire

    I'm afraid I don't know anything about Malayalam. Where is it spoken? I have yet to find a corresponding term in Malaysia, etc. And could you provide more details on the meaning of "farangi" in Malayalam?

    On Wed, 2 Jun 1993 Paganuzzi Vivian <> wrote:

    >I hurriedly read your request for info in one of my messages yesterday and >thought it was an interesting conjecture, then in the evening I read a review >of a book on the middle ages -- The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonisation >and CulturalChange 950-1350, by Robert Bartlett -- in the Guardian, and came >across this > >"By the later Middle Ages, 80% of Europe's kings and queens were French >and the term "Frank" had become synonymous with "aggressive westerner". > >This had never occurred to me before. Just shows one can learn from these >lists! > >Wyt ti yn siarad Cymraeg, gyda llaw? Cymro o Borthmadog ydw i. > >cofion

    "Aggressive westerner"? I think when I post this off to soc.culture.thai USENET newsgroup there are going to be a lot of grins, because that is not far from the current perception in Thailand. :-)

    I think the last sentence is Welsh. It is my greatest regret that I have lost all my Welsh. I guess you can say I lost my mother language by the time I was 5 years. Only my name and family pride remain.

    Wed, 2 Jun 93 Mohammed Sawaie <> wrote:

    >While I don't know the extent of the spread of the word farang in >SA languages (of which I know none), I can speak of the arabic >word ifranji or franji in the dialcts. Most authorities >attribute this word to the crusaders' times-- the franks, >presumably, all crusaders came from the frankish areas in souther >n parts of Europe. thus, frank bcame frang which was arabicized >as ifranj and the adj ifranji connating Western, alien, always >western-- if that is what you mean by caucasian. The peoples aer >al-ifranj and so on. The usage is widespread in the middle east >and north africa. presumably, th e persian language borrowed >this word from arabic as the latter came in contact with the >crusaders directly and they had to name this intruders, or their >languages and countries, etc. How about traders from Oman and >Yemen perhaps carrying this designation with them as they >seafared in the SA seas? >I hope this helps

    Wed, 2 Jun 93 wrote:

    >my belief is that /farang/ in most or all of the cases cited comes from Arabic >/faranji/, Egyptian pron. /farangi/, meaning "European" (in a sort of racial >sense). > >the word probably goes back to "Frank" Q which is the original for "French, >franc,ais," etc. anyway. > >but the spread from Arabic to Persian, Hindi/Urdu, and even further, along >with Islam (but also beyond) Islam), is not surprising. E.g. /ketaab/ "book" >from Arabic is used in Hindi as well as Urdu. Indonesian and Malaysia are no >surprise: many words from Arabic can be found there. > >Thai surprises me a little more, but only a little, esp. given the Persian >traders. Persian is a major borrower of Arabic.

    On Wed, 02 Jun 93 Adel EL ZAIM <C3425%UQAM.bitnetCUNYVM.CUNY.EDU> wrote:

    >Salut, >A propos du mot FRANJI, j'aurai un avis mais en francais. >Etant arabophone, je sais que le mot IFRANJI (nom masculin singulier, IFRANJ ou > IFRANJIYINE au pluriel) est tres repandu en arabe. Il est probablement entre >en langue araben langue arabe d'apres le mot FRANvalents en langues europeennes >apres les Croisades, puisque dans les ecrits de l'epoque et apres cela le mot >designait surtout les croises. Dans les ecrits de commentaire religieux et dans >certains livres d'histoire le mot revient souvent. >D'autre part, on peut penser que le mot IFRANJI est entre dans les langues d' >Indonesie et de la Malaysie avec l'Islam et la langue arabe, ces pays etant >en partie islamiques et ayant surement connu des livres arabes sur l'histoire >islamique. >En arabe libanais contemporain, le mot est courament utilise pour designer les >langues et personnes occidentales (!!).

    Merci beaucoup. C'est tres interessant que de nos jours ce mot est utilise en plusieurs pays de pays arabens a pays asiens. Qui peut dire que ce mot se passe en Malaysie et en Indonesie? (apologies for my rusty French!)

    Wed, 02 Jun 1993 Robert D Hoberman <> wrote:

    >Modern Standard Arabic has the word ifranji (pl., more precisely collective) >ifranj 'European', and firanja 'Land of the Franks, Europe', so the word is >available to all modern Arabs, even if perhaps not current in the colloquial of >some areas. It also exists in medieval Classical Arabic in the same forms, so >it was available to all Muslims. It is said, in Arabic dictionaries, to have >come from a Persian meaning "The French; all Europeans". I don't know Persian, >but in a dictionary of modern Persian the forms afrang, faranj, ferang, ferangi >are listed, with the meaning 'a Frank, European', and farangestAn 'Europe' >(A=back, slightly rounded [a]; lower case "a" is fronted, as in English "cat"). >A dictionary of Syriac, the classical Aramaic (Semitic) language used in some >Middle Eastern Christian churches, lists frang 'a European' and frangiya 'The >Country of the Franks; Western Europe; Latin language or church". > >As for the precise form of the Arabic word: Classical Arabic has no [g] sound. >The closest equivalent was probably a voiced palatal stop, which I represented >above as "j" and which is nowadays a voiced alveopalatal affricate in the most >widespread (and the normative) pronunciation. Medieval borrowings into Arabic >from languages with [g] often show up as Arabic "j". Moreoever Arabic has no >initial consonant clusters, hence the variation ifranj/firanj. > >Since Classical Arabic and Syriac date from the Middle Ages--their most >productive periods were about 600-1200 AD for Arabic and second to seventh >centuries for Syriac, I think it's safe to say that the word is not from any >such modern form as franc,ais but something much more like frank. > >The immediate source of the Arabic could have been Persian, as the dictionaries >suggest, but the Persians weren't in any closer contact with Western Europeans >than the Arabs were--less. On the other hand, the Syriac Christians, located >in and near the Byzantine Empire, were. So I would guess the Arabs got it from >Syriac. Why Syriac has [g] rather than [k] in this word I have no idea.

    On Thu, 03 Jun 93 ca2 <> wrote:

    >I have very limited knowledge of Bahasa Indonesia. However, I noted your >discussion of terms for _foreigner_ and am struck by the fact that _barang_, >especially when reduplicated, means _goods_, _stuff_, _things_ such as might >be brought by traders. > >Carolyn

    Now that's an interesting shift of meaning. Again, does anyone have more from Indonesian or further south/east?

    On Tue, 1 Jun 93 Paul T Kershaw <> wrote:

    >Mebbe these are my stupid American ears doing the listening, but all of these >sound more like "foreign" than "franc,ais". Has this been batted about? I >might offer as argument the striking similarity between all these words and the >Ferenghi critters in Star Trek: The Next Generation (In case you don't get >ST:TNG out there, the Ferenghi are four feet tall with basically hominid bodies >but severely distorted faces: about as foreign as you get). I mention the >Ferenghi because the phonological similarity is there, but I doubt Gene >Roddenberry had had much exposure to Asian terms for outsiders.

    On Wed, 02 Jun 93 Stephen P Spackman <> wrote:

    >I suspect that in reality this word derives from "ferengi" (sp?), a word >used on the newer Star Trek shows for certain extraterrestrials with big >ears. It probably first reached our planet in central america - rather >than going and doing the research necessary to establish this, however, >I'd just like to point to the statistically significant number of >american languages (and, indeed, others) which use words with f, v, p, >s, t or n followed (or preceded) by an r, l, n, m or ng, sometimes even >with an a, e or i in the word - to refer to such closely related >concepts as "person", "foreigner", "animal", "object", "face", "hand", >"laser pistol", "trade goods", "deity", "strange occurrence", or "means >of transportation" - or supersets or subsets of these notions. Including >inflections and transcription errors, over 90% of languages appear to >fall in this grouping! Surely it can't be a coincidence! > >Now *that's* widespread! > >(-: Sorry. Hope you get some *useful* responses as well ;-).

    Actually, maybe useful! These two have had me thinking. Are not the languages in Star Trek based, at least in part, on real languages? (mainly European? or was that Star Wars?). While the term 'Ferenghi' in Star Trek would not have come from Asia, it may have its source in a real language(s) in Europe. Would the Ferenghi happen to be traders? There is a linguistic consultant for Star Trek, right? What is the immediate source for the term in Star Trek? Can someone follow this up, maybe with the Star Trek newsgroup?

    Many thanks to all those who have replied so far in this international word hunt. I would welcome any further comments, especially from Asian linguists.

    Gwyn Williams <> Linguistics Department Thammasat University Bangkok