How to Talk Dirty in Hindi:
The Perceptual Vowel Space, Pussy and Rainbows

August 14, 2013 | Lewd Linguist

India’s not the best place to be a raging homosexual but it’s certainly not the worst. There’s one legally-married gay couple, and their biggest export is the campy musical, most notably the three-hour twerk dramas of Shahrukh Khan. There’s also the Holi festival for people who want to be rainbows.

India has 22 officially recognized languages, however Hindi is by far the most extensive. Because there are so many regional and political variants (registers) of Hindi, estimates of the number of native speakers run from 185 to 311 million. There have been many attempts to shoehorn Sanskrit words into modern Hindi; anyone who’s taken yoga knows what an eyeroll that can be. Like the Danish, Hindi speakers gravitate towards English loanwords like कंडोम /kɐɳɖom/ “condom,” especially when the alternative is गर्भ निरोधक आवरण /gɐrbʱ n̪ɪrod̪ʱɐk aʋrɐɳ/ “pregnancy inhibitor sheath.”

Of those 311 million, there are definitely some hunks. Bodybuilding and vegetarianism both have a long history in India, leading to some mind-boggling ab definition. My subcontinental friend didn’t have a six-pack (पेट की महा-पेशी /peʈ ki mɐɦa peʃi/), but he was certainly a stud (खिलाडी /kʰɪlaɖi/, “player” in all senses). Like with many Manhunt bilinguals, I didn’t know he spoke Hindi until we met in person. Of course, I pounced on the opportunity to try out some of the tongue-contorting features particular to the South Asian phonological Sprachsbund.

Hindi, along with all South Asian languages, gets its signature sound from retroflex consonants. These are made by pulling the tongue tip back behind the alveolar ridge towards the palate; in transcription they take a rightward hook. Hindi distinguishes these from dental consonants that touch the teeth (the ones with the ̪ diacritic), for example गांडा /gaɳɖa/ with the retroflex phones is “ass” but गंदा /gɐn̪d̪a/ with dentals is “unclean.”

Aspiration is another feature that can change the meaning of words. In English, voiceless sounds like p/t/k have a puff of air that naturally accompanies them. In Hindi, voiceless sounds can come with or without this air, called aspiration (shown with ʰ). Aspiration can also follow a voiced consonant like b/d/g in Hindi, in this case it’s called breathy voice (shown with ʱ). Hindi also has nasal vowels like French bon /bɔ̃/, where air is let through the nasal passage. If you’re not careful, you could go looking for चूत /ʧut̪/ “pussy” and भाँग /bʱãg/ “weed” and wind up with छूत /ʧʰut̪/ “infection” and भंग /bʱɐŋg/ “a breakdown.”

Once you’ve found someone and you’re done batting your eyelashes and exchanging namastes, it’s time to get down to business. For gays, or गांडू /gaɳɖu/ (basically “ass practitioners,” with the same -u as “Hindu”), it’s important to know who goes where. Here’s how it works:

क्या तुम चोदते हो ? /kja tʊm ʧod̪t̪e ɦo/
Do you fuck? (Are you the top?)

You might get a playful response:

क्यों, तुम चुदवाते हो क्या ? /kjõ, tʊm ʧʊd̪ʋat̪e ɦo kja/
Why, you get fucked?

The word चुदवाना /ʧʊd̪ʋan̪a/ is interesting. While in English we would use a passive like “to get fucked,” this word is literally “to cause [others] to fuck.” This kind of causative verb is a remnant of earlier Indo-European languages, and appears even in our own Germanic branch. That’s why when we lay someone we don’t just lie there, and if our boners don’t rise, we can take a pill to raise them ourselves.

You can reply with हाँ /ɦã/ “yes,” or you can use Sanskrit vocabulary to establish your authority as ultimate bottom slut. Adapted from a phrase I learned on Wiktionary:

मेरी गांड का अभिगम बिलकुल खुला है । उस में घुसाना बाएँ हाथ का खेल है ।
/meri gaɳɖ ka ɐbʱɪgɐm bɪlkʊl kʰʊla ɦɛ. ʊs mẽ gʱʊsan̪a baẽ ɦat̪ʰ ka kʰel ɦɛ/
Access to my anus is completely open. To enter it is a left-handed game.*
(*a cakewalk)

Of course, before anyone starts up their left-handed game, you might partake in oral sex. To bring up the subject:

लुंड चूसना पसंद है क्या ? /lʊɳɖ ʧusn̪a pɐsɐn̪d̪ ɦɛ kja/
You like sucking dick?

But make sure to have this phrase on hand:

दाँत का इस्तेमाल मत करो ! /d̪ãt̪ ka ɪst̪emal mɐt̪ kɐro/
Don’t use your teeth!

The word दाँत /d̪ãt̪/ actually comes from the same Indo-European root as English “tooth,” the two are called cognates. Hindi is full of words with distant English cognates, even the word घी /gʱi/ “clarified butter, ghee” is related to “Christ,” who was anointed in (sweet, buttery) oil.

The nasal vowels in words like दाँत /d̪ãt̪/ “tooth” and भाँग /bʱãg/ “weed” pose an interesting problem. In Sanskrit, vowels came in long/short pairs and all could be nasalized, however in modern Hindi this distinction is now one of vowel quality (think English “wood”/”wooed”). The lax vowels like in wood are difficult to nasalize, so when Hindi applies nasality to a vowel it snaps to the closest tense vowel, leaving Hindi with fewer nasal vowel options. This is a shrink in the perceptual vowel space, and it is very common in languages with vowel features like stress and nasality (French has 13 oral vowels but only 4 nasal).

A good example of this is the word गेहुँआ [geɦũa] “wheatish.” My friend had a skin tone that would be praised by Bollywood as a “wheatish complexion” (गेहुँआ रंग /geɦũa rɐŋg/), a glowing light brown. Traditionally this word would have the lax /ʊ/ vowel (like “wood”), however the nasalisation forces it into [u] (“wooed”), the nearest vowel that permits that feature.

There is actually a trend in linguistics called Optimality Theory that frames phonological rules like this in terms of ranked constraints. The idea is that speakers take input data like /geɦʊ̃a/ and choose a possible output that violates the fewest of their language’s constraints, set up in a table that looks like this:

Since the top candidate violates our rule, it gets a * (and a ! for suboptimality, the “awkward turtle” of linguistics) and we choose the bottom candidate, shown with a finger. Of course, actual optimality tables get much more intense, but there’s only so much counter-Chomskyan psycholinguistics I can handle before I blow my wad. If that happens to you, use this hauntingly literal phrase:

मैं माल छोड़वाला हूँ ! /mɛ̃ mal ʧʰoɽʋala ɦũ/
I’m about to shoot my load!

Once you’re done, you’ll probably want to pass out. If your partner won’t leave you alone about listicles and Netflix recommendations, use a yoga term and tell him you’re in शवासन /ʃɐʋasɐnɐ/ “corpse position.”

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