Revisiting 43: the Socka Hitsch nominal on the rural Swiss roadside

In my “Socka Hitsch” posting yesterday, Christian Zwicky / Socka Hitsch described by the nominal

old eccentric rural Swiss roadside sock vendor ‘old, eccentric sock vendor on the roadside of rural Switzerland’, ‘seller of socks along the road in the countryside of Switzerland who is of advanced age and exhibits unconventional behavior’

An unusually long nominal — I was showing off some — but not one with unusual components, put together in unusual ways. In the middle of it, rural Swiss roadside, with the complex adjectival rural Swiss, modifying the compound noun roadside — a perfectly routine and unremarkable expression    (compare rural Dutch in the attested rural Dutch landscape, urban English in the attested urban English roadworks, etc.), but one of some interest to people who fret about how the form — the morphology and syntax — of expressions (like rural Swiss) links to their meaning — their semantics and pragmatics.

Background: some rural Swiss roadside, of an especially dramatic variety, in Socka Hitsch’s home canton of Graubünden / Grisons:

(#1)”Julier Pass – Bivio to Silvaplana, Graubünden, Switzerland [south of the road from Landquart to Davos, where Socka Hitsch peddled his socks]: the characteristic, terraced ascents of the road are followed by more plateaued stretches of the road”, from the Drivescape site on 4/29/18

Then, a parsing of that great big nominal, with multiword constituents marked off by pairs of square brackets and with category membership indicated by a subscript on the right bracket of the pair. The only syntactic category labels in this parsing are N for Noun, A for Adjective. Some details have been simplified; some points of the analysis could be disputed; and the expression is potentially ambiguous, with more than one parsing. But this is, I think, a  plausible though simplified parsing for the interpretation I intended:


In this example, old and eccentric are As modifying the N with head sock vendor; semantically, they attribute two characteristics (advanced age and unconventional behavior) to the referent of that N, Socka Hitsch.

In this example, Swiss is the head A element of an A rural Swiss (modifying the N countryside). It’s understood here as denoting the characteristic of being located in Switzerland; that is, it is understood by reference to the entity Switzerland (though it isn’t morphologically a derivative N based on the N Switzerland, the way hairy is morphologically a derivative N based on the N hair). This situation might be described by saying, very loosely, that the A Swiss here is understood via the N Switzerland (rather than actually incorporating it).

Even more complicatedly: in this example, rural is an A modifying the A Swiss, an A understood as denoting the characteristic of being located in the country(side) (as opposed to in town); that is, it is understood by reference to the entity the country(side) (though formally it has absolutely nothing to do with the noun (the) country (‘districts and small settlements outside large towns, cities, or the capital’ (NOAD)). And then not just by reference to this entity, but by reference to it as it applies in the context of Switzerland (D’ya remember Switzerland?). Again, this situation might be described by saying, very loosely, that the A rural here is understood via the N country(side), specifically this N in the nominal Swiss country(side). (Obviously, rural doesn’t actually incorporate the N country(side).)

Analytic notes. Little that I have to say here is new in conception, but I’m offering (tentatively) some terminology to aid in talking about examples and how they are to be analyzed. We start with an evocative A (Swiss; rural) and the evocatum of that A / the entity evoked by that A (Switzerland; the country(side)). From there we move to a much trickier idea, of a N label for that A (Switzerland and perhaps others; country, countryside and perhaps others).

Quite often, an evocative A has a canonical N label associated with it: dog for canine (in, for example, canine therapist, either ‘therapist for dogs’ or ‘therapist that is a dog’, so roughly synonymous with dog therapist). (This fact has led to a tradition, especially in discussions of so-called pseudo-adjectves, in referring to this relationship between expressions as evocation — “the A canine evokes the N dog“, where canine is a standard example of a pseudo-adjective — but I am trying hard to keep words and things distinct here, so I won’t use that way of speaking.)

Not infrequently, there are several candidates for the N label for some A: Holland and the Netherlands for Dutch, for example, or town and city for urban.

And then, sometimes there is no real candidate for the N label for some A: the only available N is a technical or specialized N that isn’t generally known, or the evocatum is conventionally denoted by a coordination of Ns or some other complex nominal construction. This is pretty clearly the case for the evocative A civil of civil engineering, whose evocatum is  the class of “roads, bridges, dams, and similar structures” (according to NOAD) — a category overlapping with, but not coextensive with, the category of things conventionally labeled as infrastructure.

Beyond these semantic matters, of words vs. things, there are matters of phonological form. Setting aside more or less straightforward derivational morphology relating base Ns to derived As (as in America – American and Canada – Canadian), there are the unsystematic sharings of phonological substance in (for example) Switzerland – Swiss, England – English, and Britain – British. Then all the way to (many) cases where an evocative A and its N label have no phonological similarity at all (rural – country and canine – dog, for instance).

It would be possible to try to treat all of these relationships as derivational, with things like canine – dog as absolute suppletion, but the complex relationships between evocative As and the corresponding N labels would seem to make that a hard program to carry through systematically, and I can’t see any advantage in pursuing it.

Along the rural Swiss roadside. The occasional sock-seller and the like, but in the warmer months, mostly tons of wildflowers, for instance the chamois, or common, ragwort. From the WanderWisdom site on the Alpine flowers of Switzerland:

(#2) Jacobaea vulgaris, syn. Senecio jacobaea, is a very common wild flower in the family Asteraceae that is native to northern Eurasia, usually in dry, open places, and has also been widely distributed as a weed elsewhere (Wikipedia)

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