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I'm doing some translation work and would like to use the word 'hearken' as the original piece (Chinese) has a religious and traditional feel to it.

Question:

Would the sentence, "Such an experience hearkens one’s ear to the pulse of a living, breathing Chinese cultural tradition, thereby strengthening their cultural confidence." be a permissible usage of the word 'hearkens' in the eyes of most readers?

You may or may not comment on the rest of the sentence if you wish or if it is relevant to your answer.

The usage here is basically as 'calls.'

Alternatives I'm considering:

"Such an experience hearkens to the sound of the pulse of a living, breathing Chinese cultural tradition, thereby strengthening their cultural confidence."

"Such an experience beckons one’s ear to the pulse of a living, breathing Chinese cultural tradition, thereby strengthening their cultural confidence."

Relevant googling info so you don't have to do it before you answer:

  1. Hearken is generally used as an intransitive verb, but I've found a few records of it being used transitively (mostly older records).

  2. Normal intransitive uses include as a synonym for listen, i.e. 'hearken to me,' 'hearken to the Lord,' of course the idiom 'hearken back' as in 'hearken back to an earlier time,' and apparently to give attention as in 'hearkened to the evengelists'

Please leave your 'professional fact-pinions' below, and thanks in advance. XD

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    I don't think I've ever heard "hearken" used in that way. "Attune" could work there. Mar 5, 2022 at 0:41
  • Welcome! Your first question is well-communicated and well-researched. To help with future questions, I recommend reading a bit about what's covered here and how to encourage more fact and less opinion in the "fact-pinions". The goal is to focus a question in such a way that it can have a "right" answer. Thanks! Mar 5, 2022 at 1:56
  • There is no "modern usage" of the verb to hearken! The full OED flag almost all their subdefinitions as either "obsolete" or "now only poetic", and they don't provide any example usages later than 1898. You might want to consider alternatives such as Such an experience sensitises / arouses / stimulates / sharpens one’s ear to [things it makes one more sensitive to]. Mar 5, 2022 at 15:38

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As far as I'm aware the transitive use of hearken uses the sound or sound source as the object:

Hearken the birdsong!

So the first option, "Such an experience hearkens one’s ear to...", is not a usage of hearken that has ever been idiomatic, to my knowledge.

The second option, "Such an experience hearkens to the sound of," is a perfectly valid use of hearken, though the meaning gets a bit muddled: it is not the experience that hearkens, but the experiencer.

The third option, "Such an experience beckons one’s ear to..." is valid, but one might quibble that it's a bit of a mixed metaphor, since literal beckoning is a visual gesture, perceived by the eye rather than the ear.

There is an existing, idiomatic phrase that speaks of directing a figurative ear: To incline your ear to something is to focus on it attentively. However, it doesn't usually fit the current cast of your sentence: like hearkening, it describes an act of the listener to give attention to the sound source, rather than an external force that acts upon the listener to compel their attention. But perhaps it would stretch to such a use:

Such an experience inclines one’s ear to the pulse of a living, breathing Chinese cultural tradition, thereby strengthening one's cultural confidence.

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  • Great response, thanks for the input and suggestions, Andy.
    – NateFZ
    Mar 5, 2022 at 4:37

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