In teaching Spanish I often explain the difference between pre-nominal adjectives and post-nominal adjectives as the difference between an English noun phrase in which the adjective is stressed, and therefore becomes a word (hotdog), and a NP in which the N is stressed, and is therefore thought of as a phrase: (hot dog). A hotdog is not a kind of dog -- the fact that it is "hot" (or described as such) makes it a completely different category of thing. A whitehouse is not a kind of house, but a white house is a type of house.
Similarly (at least according to me it is similar), in Spanish, if I say "un carro rojo", I am identifying a house and describing it as red. If I say "un rojo carro", the fact that the car is red is integrally a part of the nature of that car, at least insofar as I am referring to it. In English this distinction could be made by distinguishing "a red car" vs. "a red car".
I am currently designing a Chinese course and am wrestling with how to address the same issue, specifically regarding when to or not to use the grammatical particle 的 (de). My theory is that using 的 distances the description from the integral being of the thing being named in the same way that putting the adjective after the noun does in Spanish, or in the same way that stressing the noun as opposed to the adjective does in English. When de is omitted in a noun phrase, the adjective is no longer a modifier, describing a peculiarity of this particular item that belongs to a wider category, but rather has become an attribute of the noun. This omission of de sometimes produces compounds but not always: 恐怖分子 -- horrific partisan = terrorist but 恐怖的分子 -- horrific DE partisan = a partisan that is being described as horrific.
I am not a trained linguist, but I speak multiple languages and am learning many, while I am a quite successful language teacher. I know that I am on to something, because thinking about it this way has worked both for my teaching and my own learning, but I am interested in expert feedback on my approach. Is my terminology correct regarding adjectives being either attributive or modifiers? Is this tendency for languages to distinguish between these two uses of adjectives commonly referred to in linguistics? Are the examples I used above correct and congruent?
In short, my theory is: An adjective can be either an attribute or a modifier of a noun. As a modifier, if it is omitted, all that is lost is specificity, but meaning does not change, as a modifier simply specifies a trait of the specific item that is being referred to out of a wider group. If it is an attributive and is omitted, the meaning is completely different, because an attributive is as integral a part of the identity of the object being referred to as the name of the object itself.
Is this true/workable?