LINGUIST List 7.486

Sat Mar 30 1996

Disc: English_attrib_nominals (Re: Sum: Tradenames)

Editor for this issue: Ljuba Veselinova <>


  1. benji wald, English_attrib_nominals

Message 1: English_attrib_nominals

Date: Fri, 29 Mar 1996 19:16:00 PST
From: benji wald <IBENAWJMVS.OAC.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: English_attrib_nominals

I found myself intrigued by certain syntactic aspects of Andreas's
summary on trade names, in conjunction with a current interest I have
in the overlap of syntactic and word formation processes in English
(and then other Germanic and eventually even a wider array of
languages.) I'll make some observations on the summary first, but
then I have some questions on what I see as the wider grammatical
significance of the processes involved.

I certainly agreed with Andreas's observation that in "SHELL oil" and
"Wrangler(s?) jeans" the modifier is not an adjective, though I don't
agree with his argument about failure in predicate position, (his *)
"this oil is SHELL",

cf. "Smell this oil. Is it Shell or Texaco?".

This doesn't seem to have anything to do with whether the modifier is
an adjective or a noun, but it would discriminate among various things
called "compounds", e.g., "that wood is ply(wood)", "that bow is *(a)
rain*(bow)/that oil is ??an olive??(oil)"/that name is *(a)
brand/??trade", "that machine is *(a) Turing/*washing/*sewing", etc.

"Shell oil" was not a good example because "oil" can be a mass noun.
"Mercedes" is better, because then we see that
"that car is *(a) Mercedes",
"that car is ??Mercedes",
cntr."that car is (*an) expensive",
in turn cntr.
"that car is an expensive/*Mercedes *one*".

(Sorry about the stars, both sides = underline; left-side = sounds
lousy, uhm, in the intended meaning/sense, *of course, of course*;
left-* a pair of parentheses = what's inside them is obligatory, not
optional. Various degrees of question-marks = various degrees of
hesitation about the status of what they question, often, I think,
because there is a better=more-conventional way to say what is
questioned, not necessarily because what is questioned should be
irrevocably banished from the grammar -- much less from our "wired-in"
faculty for creating gramars from what we hear, aka universal

In this context, I noticed discussion of gender (irrelevant to
English), but not the observation that as an independent noun the
tradename picks up the features of the noun it modifies in the
modifier context. (I think many generativists call this
"percolation", under the assumption that it's a feature of the entire
construction, called "highest NP", dropping on the head noun if it's
expressed, but damn-well dropping on what's there somehow, even if
there's no head noun.Grammatical gravity.) This is why "that oil is
Shell" is OK (I insist), cf."Now that's (an) oil!", (NB."that oil is
*a Shell" corresponds to "that's *a Shell oil", but to get back to the
*of course, of course*, they're both OK in the same
unwanted-for-present-discussion sense of "*one* of various Shell

Meawhile, we notice "that car is *a* Merecedes"
cf. "Now that's *a* car!" NOT "..that's car!"

(Well, again to bring up the unwelcome maybe "that's car" is almost?
OK if it got shattered all over the road in *countless* (uh-hunh)
pieces -- and I drove over it and it got stuck to my tires.

Maybe even
(?)Mercedes got stuck to my tires

if I recognise a fragment of the ornament to make the ID.
Observations like these have been made many times, but I can agree
they're not relevant in the context of discussion. Nevertheless, they
do make the context of the discussion more precise.)

"*those* jeans *are* Wranglers/??Wrangler."

Interestingly, Andreas (inadvertently?) varied between sing/pl
modifiers "Wrangler/s jeans". Is "Wrangler*s* jeans" a "backformation"
from "Wranglers" with the obligatory plural element when

"Four Roses" tastes/is/*are better "Black & White".

Is "Four Roses" *a* scotch or *a* whiskey? Either I don't drink or I
had a blackout and don't remember. I will grant anonymity to anyone
kind enough to answer that question.

The above considerations are interesting, but they lead me to question
the following first two sentences, which seem to want to give
tradenames "special" status in terms of grammatical properties.

"Tradenames/Trademarks are a very special kind of words. Most authors
classify them as proper names, proper nouns or as common nouns. But
there is a minority calling tradenames adjectives. .."

as far as I know, "French fried potatoes" (american English) was never
a brand/trade name, but it has the same properties discussed
above. So, they came to be called "French fries", more commonly simply
"fries" now, and there is another type called "home fries" (different
cut). I doubt that "home-baked cookies" (again american -- or Dutch,
calling them "cookies", that is) would have to become a brandname to
be called "home-bakeds" -- or would it be "home-bakes",
cf. "home(-)brew" vs. "mass ?pro:duce(d)(s)/products" -- how do you
say this? (factory-mades/makes? "factory /no-hyphen/ makes")

I have not fully thought out what's going on with the syntactic
processes involved, but I think the way tradenames are integrated into
the grammar of English is nothing peculiar to them, but reflects more
general processes whose origin and precise form I do not fully
understand. a last comment on trade names is that many are
indisputably the same as common nouns, to the owners' advantage.
That's why many of them are used generically (as common nouns, that
is) without speakers even realising they are using a brand name, e.g.,
band-aids, Q-tips (count nouns), Jell(-)o (mass noun), etc. (maybe
Phillips as well, isn't there more than one manufacturer now, though
no doubt some person or company has a patent? In Swahili, they're
called "star", using the English word -- British name?) Whether or
not generic use of some brand-names was guileless has, in fact, been
the issue in some lawsuits.

among further issues about the grammar of nominal(s as) modifiers, I
have questions about the following. "five star(??r-ed) general",
"five-leg?(ged) table/?cow". How is the difference in formation of
such types principled, or to what extent is it arbitrary?
Historically it seems that both types are at least as old as English,
Things were "horn*ed*, but not "leg**ged* in OE. arbitrary? Then the
-ed type gained ground (within what constraints?) in Middle English
(another crime to be pinned on the loss of case?) -- but has been
losing ground more recently? (on what basis? phonology?
cf. "three-ring(?ed) circus", "one-arm?(ed) bandit" (that's a
slot-machine, you put money in, pull a lever, watch pictures of fruits
spin around, and then either do it again or walk away), "two-time*d
loser"-- yes, the last has a very different modifier "function" from
the others, but I couldn't resist throwing it in. It might be a clue
to how to distinguish the others, but I doubt that.

Next, is there any principled relation between any of the above and
the -er nominaliser, "two-wheeler", "four-seater", ?"two-roomer" (=
two-room(?ed) apartment/flat"), but cf. British "bedsitter" (but
that's easy, it sit--uate--s a bed = american "studio apartment",
sounds more spacious, doesn't it? are these different ways of saying a
"one-roomer", or would it be a "one-room"?-- primary stress on the

Just to show I'm not fixating on expressions with a number in them,
what about "a lif*er*", and the like. Should this be explained on the
basis of relation to some modifier form like "*life-enlisted*
soldier/*life-sentenced* convict(/?*life-long* linguist)", etc.? When
and how did -er get these properties, whatever they are?

To end on a tangent, here's a quote from Mustanoja's famous Middle
English Syntax:

"The past participle of a transitive verb is passive in sense, that of
an intransitive verb active (*he held him betrayde*; -- *I fond hir
ded*). This principle, it seems, is applicable also to cases like
*this dronke Millere* (Ch.CT a Mil.3150), where the verb *drink* in
all probability has an intransitive meaning: cf. Mod. E, *a
wide-travelled man, an outspoken person*." (p.549)

Setting aside puristic arguments about whether a "wide*ly* travelled
man (or woman)" would be stylistically more standard nowadays, we can
add "a well/*good-read person", but somehow, I think, not "a
well-written author/person", even though "they *write* for a living"
seems as "intransitive" as the other guy. What? "ded"= "dead"
(spelling reformists take note) is "active (in sense)"? Can somebody
explain to me what M means? Because I would like to know how (having)
drunk(?en) stuff makes the drinker "drunk(?en)" too. (and we better
move fast before strong pasts completely replace past participles in
English and further obscure their adjectival remnants: "Have you ever
*drank* that? It makes me drunk/*drank"). I figure it has something
to do with psych verbs, like the ones that used to have an impersonal
subject and an oblique (earlier dative) experiencer, "methinks", "it
hungers me" (> I hunger for), etc. Was there a change in the
participle before/during/after the "promotion" of oblique to subject?,
"a hungered/hungering/!hungry person", etc.

I guess that's enough for now, but any other current
information/thoughts about such modifier/nominalisation processes
would be much appreciated and acknowledged. -- Benji
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue