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.

You really don't see a

You really don't see a connection between the cross and the christians?

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.


Good points made there 5 years ago now.

You may be also interested to know that the Germanic tribes who constantly fought the Romans more than 2,000 years ago were known in the Latin languages as Franci. From that ultimately came the name " Frankfurt" Frank= Franci, Furt= ford.

The Crusaders were known as " Franks". They were " Franci" who had migrated to what is now called Holland, Belgium and France. The Arabic pronunciation of Frank was Farangi. This word predates Farang Sate by more than one thousand years and the Latin term Franci predates Farang sate by 2,000 years.

Because Thailand/ Siam was never colonised ( except by Japan and Burma ) it is impossible for words used in Bangkok to be related in any way to the almost identical word used in all the surrounding countries!

This is in response to

This is in response to comment made by Franci. Thailand was never colonized by Japan, Japan attempted to do it but only was able to gain control of a region in Thailand. The same for Burma. The only person that gained a significant part of Thailand & almost had control was the Khmer King (Cambodian) Jayavarman VII. He gained control of the old capital, Ayuthaya. Thailand has never been colonized or conquered, and the country that has had most influence would be India. (Source: My mom (full Thai) & I'm mixed Thai)

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.