Construction of subcultural identity in song lyrics

Henna Jousmäki

University of Jyväskylä, Department of Languages/ English, Finland


Construction of subcultural identity in song lyrics

Although the study of discursive construction of identities in bilingual settings has recently increased, religious identities have not been widely addressed. In today’s increasingly secular West (Bruce 2002), it is especially Christianity that does not attract very much attention. Nevertheless, Christianity still abounds among Western young people to the extent that it gives rise to specific youth subcultures.

An example of such a subculture is Christian heavy metal culture, which functions around Christian faith as well as around a taste for heavy metal music. Christian heavy metal, or white metal, has become an established music genre worldwide and in Finland, too. As with various other types of music, a great amount of Finnish Christian metal is performed in English. Thus, this kind of subculture provides an interesting set of data both in terms of sociolinguistics and subcultures.

My presentation is based on data from my ongoing study on Finnish English-language Christian heavy metal discourse. From a critical discourse analytic perspective (Fairclough 1992), I will show how white metal lyrics contribute to the construction of Christian heavy metal identities and culture. What is sung about and how is it worded? What discourses and genres are drawn upon? What kinds of aspects does this kind of subcultural identity include, and what is rejected from it? What is the social and ideological significance of the linguistic and discursive choices? To answer these questions, I will be paying attention especially to the use of pronouns, to the presentation of semantic opposites, and to the intertextual features of the lyrics.

The present data are an example of how macro-level phenomena – here, the global spread of the English language, of heavy metal music, and of Christianity – come to mix into quite specific micro-formulations where all the parts influence the outcome but also become affected by it. With regard to these data, this two-way process shows in contributions to the heavy metal genre, in interpretation of the Christian dogma, and in the appropriation of the English language by native speakers of Finnish.

Bruce, Steve 2002. God is Dead. Secularization in the West. Oxford: Blackwell.

Fairclough, Norman 1992. Discourse and Social Change. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Session: POSTERS:Focus on language policy, literacy, education, identity
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 13:00-15:45
room: foyer