The Thai word "Farang", its variations in other languages, and its Arabic origin

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The Thai word "Farang", its variations in other languages, and its Arabic origin

While reading a recent issue of the Canadian Geographic, I came across a news item mentioning two Canadians in Thailand, who run a magazine targeted for Westerners, called Farang. The similarity of this term to the Arabic ones piqued my interested, so I did some research on it.

I found that this term Farang means "White European" in Thai. The Wikipeda Farang article says that the origin of this term is uncertain.

The term Arabs used for Eastern Europe in the seventh century was Rum الروم being the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium). For Western Europe, the term Firinjia came to be used somewhat after that, and specially during the Crusades, since a large percentage of the Crusaders were Franks. Hence the term Firinjah stuck to all Western Europeans.

As Arab traders travelled to East Asia, the term was borrowed into the languages of that region. Initially describing the Portuguese, it was used for all "whites" later.

Arabic Word Transliteration in Latin characters Comments
فرنجة Firinja, Firinjah Plural
فرنجي Firinji Singular of above term
أفرنج Ifranj, Afranj Another plural form
أفرنجي Ifranji, Afranji Singular

Here are the derivations in other languages.

Term Language Comments
frangos, firanja Greek "Westerner", "Latin Catholics", "Land of the Franks"
ifrangi Turkish
frang Syriac "a European", "The Country of the Franks; Western Europe; Latin language or church"
afrangi, ifranji, faranji Arabic Arabic variations. See details in table above.
afrang,faranj, ferang, ferangi, feringhi Perisan
farenghi Hindi
farengi, farangi, pirangi Tamil
farangi Malayalam
farang Thai
barang Cambodian Khmer
pha-rang, pha-lang-xa Vietnamese
palang Malaysia
barang Bahasa Indonesia
paalagi, papalangi, vaalagi, papa-'aa Samoan/Maori Likely a coincidence ?


about your list

barang Bahasa Indonesia
palang Malaysia

First word barang in Indonesian (this is Malaysian word too) means : goods, not refer to a group of people.

Second word palang means = cross or long stick not refer to a group of people

In the past before 16 century we Indonesian/Malaysian use the word Farangi, that was referred to Portuguese.



Farang - Farangi - Faranggi - Ferringgi

Very interesting but to associate palang (cross) or barang (item/goods)with Farangi is indeed very strange. I really dont know how the writer could claim that "palang" and "barang" come from the word "Farang". To Indonesians and Malaysians (who happen to share similar language and culture), Farangi (pronounced as Faranggee/Feringgee) or its variations, is an old classical word used to refer to the Portugues.

Hence, Old Malacca/Melaka used to be associate with Farangi/Faringi; Malacca was invaded and captured by the Portuguese in 1511 and remained under the Portugues for about a hundred years before the Dutch (Belanda) took over.

There is a place (a beach) in Penang, called Batu Feringgi (Portugues Rock), which suggests the Portugues must have landed in Penang as well, not only Malacca. Why they overlooked the importance of Penang - nobody knows. But perhaps Capt Francis Light knew better for he established this outpost for the East India Company and the British Imperial Government in the 1700s.

the last poster seems

the last poster seems incredibly short sited if not a little narrow minded that when faced with a list that reads:
farangi.. all the way to parang or balang in one direction towards (malaysia/indonesia) and frangos (greek)in the other direction. I find it remarkable that this person cannot attribute that to the same origin.. differences having occured over thousands of years through accent drift. If the above person went to newcastle from London they would probably conclude that they were not speaking a related language.

The Thai word 'Farang' does

The Thai word 'Farang' does not mean white European. It is used by some Thais to label all whites and quite whites, including whitish people from Russia, Brazil, Greenland, New Zealand etc. Negros and most Chinese are excluded of course as are people who are Arabic in appearance. However a light skinned Arab might confuse them slightly as would albino Australian aborigines.

Same thing

The word's origin in Arabic goes back more than a millennium ago. At that time, "whites" were confined to Europe, and the name "Franks" was mistakenly applied to all European.

Now, after many periods of great migrations, specially after the mid 1400s, whites are everywhere. So it is not European in the modern sense, but rather in the historical one, i.e. whites of European descent.

Of course, such an imprecise term would include anyone of lighter skin too.

Same Same

Khalid makes some excellent points and I'm tempted to say that they all seem to refer back to the Franks and derivations of how the word was interpreted.

I generally see it with Thais, who do have difficulty with the consonant clusters used, especially in English. For instance, Sa-pider (spider), Sa-nake (snake) are common mispronunciations.

Similarly, Thais tend to truncate consonants at the end of words. For example, -ed, especially if pronounced /t/ (lacked, tracked) usually gets omitted altogether. Also words such as bank, rank, tend to end up as bang and rang, although with the "ng" sounding like that in the middle of "singing" rather than one at the end.

I know I'm comparing modern Thai speech patterns with a much older word, but it really doesn't take a huge leap of faith to get from "Frank" to "Farang", or even "Falang" as it's usually pronounced. So, I'm going with the original poster. Either way, great article and comments.

Fi rang: "rang" is color

Fi rang: "rang" is color according to Indian languages and Fi is (light color ; not dark).It is Indian origin also

Thai word for Rose Gulab Indian also Gulab ; Siam is the name for Thailand before and it means Shyam in Indin language which means brown or Sun set.Gold is called Suwarn same is the name of Thai Airport Suwarn bhom here bhom is Bhomi which means land ie Golden land.many words like Raja,Rajkumar,rani,Rajkumari,senapati,praja,sukh,dukh,narak,swarg are few of the words Thiland & India have commen.there are many u can share it


Yes, thai based on Sanskrit. many gods are also common. many gods worshipped in india can be found in thailand.

one can say there is alot of culture that is common between the hindu indian and thai people.

Good luck thailand, namaste & swadee krap with folded hands. love frm india.

The Origin of the Word Farang from a Person Who's Thai

The origin of the word "farang" can be ambiguous and debatable. Having been brought up in Bangkok, I have always felt an intimate association with the word from a Thai's perspective. Thailand was very much influenced by the French early on. We call the French "Chow Francais" or "Chow Farang Sate (rhymes with gate)." Additionally, Thai people love to shorten words, especially words with foreign origin. For example, PiLok is short for Pitsanulok, and "SING" from the word "racing" means to drive a car super fast. Regardless of the country of origin, all white people then were generically known as "Chow Farang Sate," then later on, Farang for short.

Some reference on this website is precisely correct when it notes that "farang" is a term loosely used to describe white Europeans. Although the Americans came much later, why not refer to them as Farang as well? After all, we Thais cannot make the distinction between a white man who's French and one who's an Australian. Occasionally Thais may refer to light-skinned middle easterner as farang. This is mainly due to their naivete than anything else. A Thai never ever calls a Chinese or a dark Indian "farang." It is, however,OK to refer to a white Russian woman as farang. The word "farang," to me, is neither derogatory or complimentary to white people. To me, the connotation is roughly neutral. On the other hand, "Ai Lian" for Italian is definitely derogatory since it sounds like the word LIAN in Thai, meaning to overeat or eating so much one wants to throw up.

Although Peter Hovart did not address the origin of the word, his description is most acceptable to me, and to falang Khruu, good try!