LINGUIST List 4.573

Mon 26 Jul 1993

Disc: Epicene Pronouns, Farang

Editor for this issue: <>


  • , epicene pronouns
  • 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 aa2492uokmvsa.bitnet

    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 out.

    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 elsewhere.

    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 elsewhere.)


    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 Bangkok