Gender and contestation in Bengali adda

by Anindita Chatterjee

Institution: University of Texas – Austin
Department: Anthropology
Degree: MA
Year: 2015
Keywords: Adda; Bengal; Language; Gender; Collaboration; Tag-questions
Record ID: 2059423
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/2152/28101


The study investigates the constructed relationship between gender, language, and power in a type of conventional, informal discussion, commonly referred to as adda in Bengal. This research focuses on everyday contestations of authority and some ways that are differently framed by men and women, and as well as some implications of these strategies as they negotiate and position themselves within the setting of adda in Austin, Texas, a place away from Bengal. The corpus consists of a segment of recorded data within mixed-group interaction, including both men and women, among native Bengalis who are currently from Texas as well as from Bengal. I use conversation analysis as a methodology to analyze the sequential production of meaning, and study how participant roles emerge and are negotiated through the lens of an adda setting. The study investigates the transformation of a discussion between men and women into a format of debate, which is common in adda, and the strategies employed by the participants to seize the floor. The strategies analyzed include: collaboration between women to disagree with the male participants’ positions and vice-versa. Questioning as a practice can be a very powerful device within the situated space, as it demands a response from the recipient. The study builds on the recent scholarship on the multifunctional use of tag questions and contributes by adding a new perspective on how the tag-questions are employed by women as an interactional strategy to become co-tellers in the discussion. From the very outset, the study focuses on the use of tag-questions and how they are implemented in an interactional framework (by either men or women). The broader aim of this report is to use tag-question as a primary data set because of their complexity. The act of questioning is a very complex activity as it involves the context and positioning of the speaker as well as the recipient and how they both act and react to the question. In the segment analyzed in the report, women use tag question to question the men’s authority claims, but the questions are interpreted by men as a re-framing to a teacher-student paradigm, and undermine the women’s position. The female participants also create interruptions to redirect and reformulate the topic, in order to become co-tellers in the discussion. In exploring these strategies, I examine both the embodied behavior and the speech styles of both men and women.