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In old Russian the word фрязь ([fr'az'], apostrophe means a soft consonant) was used to denote a westerner. Although the word is not used any more, it is kept as part of some place names, such as a town Фрязино.

I wonder if it is connected to the Thai farang which is also used to denote a westerner.

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Shouldn't the transcription be fr'jaz'? –  Alenanno Feb 1 '13 at 9:04
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@Alenanno there is no j-sound in this word, you are free to use any transcription you prefer. Russian usually doen not neet transcription, because pronunciation is determined by the spelling. –  Anixx Feb 1 '13 at 9:13
    
There is no j sound by itself, of course, but я is not a rather it's ja, isn't it? I've always seen it transcribed like that. –  Alenanno Feb 1 '13 at 9:44
    
@Alenanno no, it's "ja" (iotified) only word-initially, after vowels and after soft and hard signs, otherwise it's "a", similar to the letters e, ё and ю –  Anixx Feb 1 '13 at 9:46
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up vote 4 down vote accepted

Surprisingly, it appears they are related, cognate to Frank.

The Wikipedia article that Alex B. linked gives an etymology for the Russian фря́зин /ˈfrʲa.zʲin/. It derives from the older form фрѧ́зин /ˈfrɛ̃.zʲin/ (following loss of nasality of ѧ and a spelling reform). This is a sound-changed version of /ˈfrɛ̃ɡʲin/ by progressive palatalization; this derives from Frank + /ʲin/, a suffix for ethnonyms.

The Thai ฝรั่ง [faràŋ] is reportedly also derived from Frank, via Arabic, Persian, or Sanskrit (various forms like Farangi, Faranj). Cognate terms were used by Middle Eastern traders to refer to the Catholic Western Europeans. Southeast Asian languages have numerous borrowings along that route, so this etymology is plausible. See also Wikipedia's list of cognate terms, which includes similar terms in many nearby languages (Indic languages, Malay, Cambodian). It also appears in Star Trek.

(Not related to English foreign, which is coincidentally similar.)

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Interesting! A similar thing occurred in the Tupi language, where the word peró was coined to designate the Portuguese. The word comes from the archaic form of "Pedro" (cognate of "Peter"). –  Otavio Macedo Feb 2 '13 at 0:24
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