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I'm interested in the phenomenon where people object to "illegal" as though it is inaccurate because the person implied by "immigrant" cannot be illegal in merely being a person. While moral and legal objections may be harder for those in society to come to a definitive conclusion about, I'm pretty sure that purely linguistically speaking, there are plenty of cases (even prescriptively accepted ones) where an adjective is accepted as modifying the noun, particularly one with a clear relationship to a verb ("immigrate") where the modification is more as an adverb of the verb from which the noun may be derived rather than of the noun itself (e.g., "illegal immigrant" need not be understood as "immigrating illegal person" but instead simply as an "illegally immigrating person"). Is there a linguistic term for this kind of indirect qualification?

I'd also be interested in an exposition about this discussion extending to adjective + nouns where the adjective is even more indirectly acting as a kind of adverb for a verb implicit in the noun--such as "illegal alien" (where "illegal" describes the manner by which someone is or became an alien).

(As a bonus question, it'd be nice to have a few more examples that are similar, even if having nothing to do with social issues. I can think of "hard worker" where "hard" describes how hard the person works, and not that the person who works is hard-hearted or has tough skin.)

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    You have no business being alien, why are you alienating yourself sounds a bit like the Simpsons' routine stop hitting yourself. Seriously though, seeing alien as a dysphemism for immigrant, illegal could be synonymous with illegitimate, or rather "not legitimated". This thought derives from Ger. past participle legitimiert, while there can't (or shouldn't in a positive logic) be a paste participle of the opposite non-action, thus that's rather an adjective of continuous state, or hypothetical inabillity, not of achievement. I see no verb in alien; please clarify.
    – vectory
    Feb 24 '19 at 16:53
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is a pseudo-question that is in fact about politics and not linguistics.
    – user23769
    Feb 24 '19 at 16:57
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    Geoffrey Pullum discusses this here: chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2018/08/01/…
    – Nardog
    Feb 24 '19 at 17:49
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    This could be a good question (though perhaps too English-specific) if you were to remove the political aspects. There are interesting grammatical differences in usage between attributive and associative adjectives. See, e.g Giegerich 2005. A "big gambler" isn't necessarily large; a "papal emissary" isn't the Pope; the UK's "Foreign Secretary" is in fact domestic. Feb 24 '19 at 20:19
  • @ArnaudFournet Sociolinguistics impinges on the political, and it was my intent to forestall answers which were along those specific lines and clarify the scope of my question, though since my focus is not on sociolinguistics and forestalling off-topic discussions would only be needed in open-ended social media rather than in a linguistics forum, I will update the question. Feb 25 '19 at 0:14

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