LINGUIST List 4.492

Mon 21 Jun 1993

Sum: Farang

Editor for this issue: <>


  • Gwyn Williams, Re: More replies on "FARANG" ("Westerner") and related terms

    Message 1: Re: More replies on "FARANG" ("Westerner") and related terms

    Date: Mon, 21 Jun 1993 17:18:33 Re: More replies on "FARANG" ("Westerner") and related terms
    From: Gwyn Williams <>
    Subject: Re: More replies on "FARANG" ("Westerner") and related terms

    There has been considerable continuing interest in this term which originated from Germanic 'Frank' and spread through Muslim trade routes after the Crusades into Africa, India, and Southeast Asia. In my last posting (LINGUIST List: Vol-4-459. Tue 15 Jun 1993) various people had given these varying forms:

    In a general "West" to "East" progression:

    "frangos" ("Westerner") - Greek "ifrangi" - Greek ("Latins (Catholics)", Turkish, Arabic "frang" "a European" and "frangiya" "The Country of the Franks; Western Europe; Latin language or church" - Syriac, the classical Aramaic (Semitic) language used in some Middle Eastern Christian churches, "afrangui" - In Arabic (in Egypt and in some North African countries) "ifranji" or "franji" - Arabic dialects "faranji" - Arabic, "farangi" - Egyptian "ifranji" (nom masculin singulier, "ifranj" or "ifranjiyine" au pluriel - Arabic "ifranji (pl., more precisely collective) "ifranj" 'European', "firanja" "Land of the Franks, Europe" - Modern Standard Arabic "afrang,faranj, ferang, ferangi" - Modern Persian "feringhi" - Persian "farengi, farangi, pirangi" (Tamil version) etc.- Dravidian in India "farangi" - Malayalam (borrowed from Portuguese in 16th century) "farang" ("Westerner") in Thai "barang" - Cambodian "farang" - Thai from Persian "farangg" in 16th century(?) "pha-rang", "pha-lang-xa" - formerly Vietnamese "barang" - Bahasa Indonesia (reduplicated) "goods", "stuff" things such as might be brought by traders "paalagi/papalangi/vaalagi/papa-'aa" - Samoan ("four layers"--Rarotongan)/Maori "paakehaa" (likely a coincidence) "Ferenghi" on Star Trek.


    GW: Following are new messages I have received since the above replies:

    On Wed, 16 Jun 1993 John Cowan <> wrote:

    >On Linguist List, Gwyn Williams quotes Hartmut Haberland thus: > >>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').

    >I find this word fascinating! Am I right in supposing that "Aromounian" is >some variety of Romanian? The word "Vlach" has been historically applied >to the Romanians (as in the English form "Wallachia"), and is supposed to >be a variant (via Old Slavonic) of the Germanic word "walas", "valas" which >was applied by Germanic-speakers to those of Romance or Celtic speech. >In the sagas, and also in Danish-influenced OE, "Rumvala/Rumwala" is a word >for "Roman". > >The reflex of "walas" in Modern English is, of course, "Welsh". So we >return from the original query back to its author by a route unsurpassed for >deviousness: Welsh to Thai to Arabic to Persian to Greek to Romanian to >Slavic to Germanic to Welsh.

    On Wed, 16 Jun 1993 Harold Schiffman <> wrote:

    >Very much enjoyed the responses on Farang; your question about Malayalam: >it is a sister language of Tamil, spoken on west coast of S. India, so it >would be no exception to the borrowing from Arabic. Tamil has pirangi >instead of firangi etc. because it doesn't have an /f/; the vowel /i/ is >intrusive because original Tamil words can't have the cluster /pr-/ and >/i/ is the vowel of choice; but it may have come in as firangi anyway, not >farangi. It is usually fi- all over India. The person who quoted farangi >for Malayalam may have gotten it wrong.

    On 16 Jun 93 Paul Chapin, NSF <> wrote:

    >I saw your 'farang' summary on LINGUIST. I've given away all my >Polynesian reference books, so this is out of my head, but Sam. >paalagi (properly written with a single /a/ with a macron, which my >computer won't do) 'foreigner' is a regular bimorphemic word, >combining paa 'break' and lagi 'sky' (both Pan-Polynesian forms -- "g" >is Samoan orthography for /ng/). The origin is supposed to be that >foreigners came originally out of a hole in the sky. The Rarotongan >form is borrowed from Samoan, I believe. > >I suppose it could be a derivative of 'farang' or some form thereof >which has been re-analyzed with a folk etymology, but if that were the >case it would have had to be directly into Samoan, because the other >Polynesian languages use other words for 'foreigner': Maori "pakeha", >Hawaiian "haole", etc. I'm not aware of Polynesian cognates to >paalagi in the other languages. My best guess is that it's an >accidental resemblance.

    GW: Oh, well. I had thought the Samoan term "paalagi" was too freakish to be true. I suppose this is comparable to "kumara" ("sweet potato) found in both South America and Polynesia that set Thor H. on his boat expedition across the Pacific some years ago. ;-) But (here I indulge in flights of fantasy again): could early traders/explorers have introduced the term into Samoa in the very early days? Perhaps through trade routes by way of Asia? Or were there Samoan sailors on trading ships who picked up the term? Is there a similar term in any pidgins in the region? What about early Chinese pidgin which was essentially a trade pidgin? etc. Perhaps if I continue to speculate such things I can provoke some Austronesianists/Polynesianists into a response. :-)

    On Wed Jun 16 Kevin Donnelly <> wrote:

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

    >This also happens in Gaelic with the word "Francach" (Irish Gaelic >spelling) or "Frangach" (Scottish Gaelic spelling". "Cearc fhrancach" >(lit. "French hen") is the word for "turkey". "Luch francach" (lit. >"French mouse") means "rat". Often the term used is simply "francach", >and you have to tell from the context whether it refers to a turkey or rat >or Frenchman. > >I checked with the dictionary and it quotes "Foreign, exotic; large" as >a subsidiary meaning for "francach", and gives further examples of >"francach" and "gallda" (foreign) being used interchangeably in plant names.

    GW: So we have managed to extend the western borders of the spread of the term to Britain. Is there an Indo-European root? or is it borrowed from Germanic? I might add that the guava, possibly introduced to Thailand from South America by Portuguese traders is also called "farang". /ton farang/ is literally "the farang's tree" (Harris 1986). Most Thais (mistakenly) believe that this is a native Thai word and one of the possible sources of the term for "Westerner" because both have white flesh. Also, the archetypal Westerner in Thailand is blond.

    On Thu, 17 Jun 93 Sharon Rose <B71DMUSICB.MCGILL.CA> wrote:

    >I must have missed the original query about farang/farangi/faranj >etc. I am very familiar with this word in its Ethiopian form, >having had it yelled at me practically every day throughout my >stay in Ethiopia. It designates white person, not just foreigner >or Westerner, and is pronounced frnj or frnji (with schwas). >I was told it has the same origin as that of the neighbouring North >African countries, namely Frank, and we might speculate that it >was borrowed from Arabic. >I was intrigued to find it was so widespread, and that there were >so many opinions as to its origin. I can't shed any light on that, >but would have to agree that Robert Hoberman's hypothesis sounds >the most likely.

    GW: Sharon's comment is most interesting. This topic originally arose on soc-culture-thai because some "farang" commented about similar experiences in Thailand. Note that in Thailand at least, while the term does designate a race (white Westerner), it is not at all a racist term. I wonder how far spread the term is in Africa?

    There were several replies dealing with a similar term on Star Trek. I had asked whether these being were traders and what was its immediate source:

    On 16 Jun 1993 Brian White <BFWHITE%YKTVMV.bitnetCUNYVM.CUNY.EDU> wrote:

    >I suspect that the name "Ferenghi" in Star Trek was a deliberate >borrowing of "farang." The Ferenghi are a caricature of aggressive >Westerners -- obsessively greedy, short-sighted and dishonest traders. >They were introduced, apparently, to represent the values of the West >in the 20th century, in contrast with the values of the utopian >Federation, which exists at a time when people are supposed to have >grown up a little. Just so no one could miss the point, in the >episode where they're introduced, the Ferenghi lose out when a >Federation commander who quotes Sun-Tzu is judged morally superior to >them by a being from an advanced civilization. The being offers to >destroy the entire Ferenghi species, but the Federation officer >declines, noting that "we used to be like that, once." If this sounds >a little smug and heavy-handed, it was, unfortunately. The show did >better later on.

    On Wed, 16 Jun 1993 John Cowan <> wrote:

    >As you have probably heard from other quarters by now, the Ferengi >(the 'g' is a stop, but this spelling seems to be normative) are indeed >traders, and of a particularly unscrupulous sort, more or less corresponding >to the Western (Frankish) stereotype of Arabs -- "come with me to the Kasbah", >etc. > >The only really well-developed language on Star Trek is Klingon, which has >its own mailing list; it was invented by Marc Okrand. The phonology is >appropriate, with lots of velars and other "messy" consonants; the >morphology has been called "an exuberant Amerind-style template machine"; >and the basic word order is rigidly OVS! There is a book, The Klingon >Dictionary, which includes a brief grammar summary as well, >and an Internet mailing list at <>.

    On Wed, 16 Jun 93 sharon sabsay <ILW4SLSMVS.OAC.UCLA.EDU> wrote:

    >I'm sure you will hear from far better informed sources than me, but the >Ferenghi on Star Trek are indeed traders!

    On Wed, 16 Jun 93 Gerald Reno <> wrote:

    >[...] >The "Ferengi" on Star Trek are, in fact, traders, but I couldn't tell you >where they got the name from. Star Trek does, however, have at least one >linguist on staff; he wrote a Klingon/English dictionary which is available >in most bookstores (in this country, at least). But that's another story.

    On Wed, 16 Jun 93 Paul T Kershaw <> wrote:

    >Sorry... ferenghi. My e-mail won't let me correct errors in the subject >line.... >Now that you mention it, the Ferenghi are traders. In fact, that is their >be-all-end-all raison d'etre purpose of existence (the redundancy is >intensional hyperbole, not my stupid American "soupe de jour of the day" >genes). The major way in which a Ferenghi on ST:TNG judge each other is how >well they stab each other in the back capitalistically. One episode on TNG's >sister show, Deep Space Nine, revolves around how the Ferenghi can be the first >settlers in a new, unknown sector of the universe, where their reputation is >unknown, so that they can make a fresh start (translation: niave suckers for >the capitalism thresher). An episode of ST:TNG revolves around how a Ferenghi >boy becomes respected by his uncle by parlaying some worthless junk (which the >boy's father had purchased) into a valuable piece of property by cheating and >conniving. (I think I watch too much television...) > >Star Trek has had linguists working for it, but to my knowledge, this was >limited to the films, and to the Klingon language, which appears to be growing >a life of its own via Internet. As for whether Ferenghi was thus derived: ya >ne znayu / je ne sais pas / ich weiss nicht...

    GW: The term in Star Trek does have some very tantalizing similarities to the term in various languages. We have still to establish the immediate source of this term in Star Trek.

    Nik, a friend teaching at Silpakorn University, Bangkok, has turned up some interesting terms in Malay. The Lonely Planet Travel Survival Kit on Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei by Tony Wheeler, et al (1991) has "Batu Ferringhi" (translated as "Foreigner's Rock"), which is a tourist beach on Penang Island. Also the Collin's Gem Malay-English, English-Malay Dictionary (1975) lists "Feringgi" meaning "Portuguese"; "barang" meaning "commodity, thing, luggage, anything, any" (compare the Indonesian term); "barat" meaning "west".

    Many thanks to all who responded. I look forward to more!

    PS: If anyone is interested in the papers by Harris (1986) and Thion (1993) I have mentioned, I can e-mail them privately.

    Gwyn Williams <> Linguistics Department Thammasat University Bangkok