Hozier’s “Butchered Tongue,” lends itself more to a historical context as it explores the devastating long term effects of colonization, but is certainly informed by modern events and contemporary understandings of language and culture. As the song goes, “And as a young man Blessed to pass so many road signs And have my foreign ear Made fresh again On each unlikely sound,” Hozier expresses his happiness that he has gotten to spend so much time getting to know the languages of so many places and come to an understanding of how important language is to a people. The song, exploring the importance of indigenous languages and their preservation, comes only a few short months after the Oscar nomination of an Irish film spoken predominantly in Irish, an incredible achievement for the language, which is in the process of being revived by the Irish people. Around the song’s release, it was also announced that the first-ever Irish language children’s TV channel would premiere this fall on Irish television, adding also to the goals of raising a new generation who can speak their own language.

But “Butchered Tongue” speaks to more languages than just Irish – multiple news articles released in the weeks after the song explain Australian attempts to teach their own disappearing indigenous languages in schools as well, and the cultural importance of preserving indigenous languages in the first place.

And because this is a folk song, Hozier’s stripped down, soft vocals and piano work beautifully to emphasize his sorrow. The horrors of past English brutality – “The ears were chopped From young men If the pitch cap didn’t kill them” – take just a moment to process, as you are taken in by the soft melody and then register the lyrics and are repulsed. The whole goal seems to be to lure you in peacefully and then strike with devastating history and consequences.

Of this song in particular, Hozier, who is both the artist performing and the sole songwriter on the track, said ““Butchered Tongue” looks back at sort of historical violence, colonial violence, and the destruction of language that comes out of it” in an interview by Taylor Weatherby for the Grammys. In the same interview, he explains that the song “explores the sort of experience of traveling around the world with the Irish view of history,” and how that view informed his interactions with, as the lyrics go, “The place names…”Appalacicola” or “Hushpukena” Like “Gweebarra””, names that had cultural significance but whose roots had been forgotten in a similar way to many Irish place names. A review of the album for The Oberlin Review by Loie Schiller also highlights “the use of Gaelic throughout the album,” which makes it clear that “this song is a scathing criticism of the treatment of these communities and a defiant statement that the language is still here — while the tongue may be butchered, it still sings aboveground.”

Hozier is a master of lyricism, and “Butchered Tongue” is no exception – rather, it is a clear execution of the rule.

All lyrics written by Hozier, sourced courtesy of Musixmatch and Google.