I am translating an American article about a theatre production, and there's a phrase I can't understand. It uses the word "empirically" but if I'm not mistaken has nothing to do with philosophy/science, the two spheres that are usually mentioned in the definitions of this word. Here it is (Bunin is the name of the author of the original text):

Bunin’s text isn’t diminished amid the theatricality. Indeed Bunin’s words are empirically ubiquitous (the piece is entirely in Russian and French): the dialogue is echoed both by a cappella vocalizations and the English translations washing across the playing field, the entire stage becoming a projection screen.

The only idea that comes to my mind is that "empirically" here is a synonym for "practically", that is: "Indeed Bunin's words are practically/almost everywhere". What do you think?

I would appreciate your help and your ideas :) Many thanks in advance!

  • Have you looked up what empirically actually means in a dictionary? The literal definition of the word seems to fit all right in this context, though I agree it’s an unusual way to use the word. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 25 '15 at 23:42
  • Thanks a lot for your answer! Yes, I have, but it still isn't clear to me, and that's why I've asked that question:) I don't understand why did the author use this word if he doesn't mention any kind of theory? As far as I understand, knowledge is empirical if we get it by watching/examining things, as opposed to theoretical conclusions. Or did the author just mean "we can see that it is ubiquitous"? – Elizaveta Levina Jul 25 '15 at 23:56
  • I suspect that the author used empirically believing it to mean something other than what it normally means. The other question you asked left me with the distinct impression that the article is not particularly well written. – phoog Jul 26 '15 at 6:15
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    This doesn't help you, Elizaveta Levina, but I have to agree with phoog that the author was in dire need of severe editing that he or she never received. The notion of "empirically ubiquitous words" calls to mind a, the, is, was, etc., but I'm sure that's not what the rhetorically high-flown author has in mind here. – Sven Yargs Jul 27 '15 at 8:31
  • Thank you for your comment, it actually does help me :) It's always nice to know that the problem is not in your level of English but in someone's unusual style. – Elizaveta Levina Jul 27 '15 at 21:59

"Empirical" means amenable to testing or understanding through physical experience. It comes from the Greek Εμπειρίκος, meaning "experienced" or "practiced." You could also say, "in practice; not theory." If the entire stage is a projection screen for making Bunin's words visible and the a cappella choir makes them audible, then the audience can directly experience the sensations of those words in some medium at any time during the performance. Presumably, this would be different if Bunin' words were merely posited by a theater critic or only suggested or hinted at, forcing audience members to rely on authority or intuition.

  • Many thanks, I haven't thought of it! You've been a great help! – Elizaveta Levina Jul 25 '15 at 23:57

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