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From The Imitation Game (2014), more specifically, from a WW2-era newsreel snippet inserted into the movie to keep the viewer up to date with the events:

"The German Army has fanned out across Europe, From Poland to Serbia, Lithuania to Denmark, Norway to France. The Nazi flag now flies from more than two dozen national capitals. Their campaign mounts in fury as a free Europe crumbles". (The newsreel is in an "old newscaster voice", clearly framed as contemporary with the events; there is some black-and-white historical footage being shown while this voice pronounces the words.)

Is this adjective free restrictive or non-restrictive? That is, can we take it out without affecting the meaning in a radical way:

"The German Army has fanned out across Europe, From Poland to Serbia, Lithuania to Denmark, Norway to France. The Nazi flag now flies from more than two dozen national capitals. Their campaign mounts in fury as Europe crumbles". (Has the meaning changed radically compared with the previous sentence?)


I'm asking this on the heels of my previous question about article usage that concerns this same passage. I failed to find an explanation in Quirk et al's (1985) chapter on article usage, but Snailboat mentioned a note in the book's Unit 17.3:

Note: In popular narrative style, there is a nonrestrictive use of premodifying adjective in cases like the following (cf cleft sentences, 18.26 Note [b]):
- 'Reporters hounded an embarrassed Ben Miles over his TV gaffe last week and in reply to one questioner the unhappy Miles made things still worse by ...'

So I'd like to know whether this free feels non-restrictive to native speakers of English. If it does, it could help me understand the use of the indefinite article there.

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When we throw in the indefinite article, we begin talking about different versions of something. So when you have a free Europe, you also could have other kinds of Europes...a poor Europe, an enslaved Europe, a destroyed Europe, etc.

Going off of that idea, the two sentences do have slightly different meanings:

Their campaign mounts in fury as Europe crumbles.

Here, Europe is crumbling. Europe is being destroyed and is falling apart. The result is almost seen as something devoid of Europe - Europe is destroyed. Of course, we know that Europe will technically always be there, as it is a continent. However, the idea is that the Europe entity is destroyed.

Their campaign mounts in fury as a free Europe crumbles.

Here, however, the thing that is crumbling isn't actually Europe. It is a free version of Europe. Furthermore, there is an implication here that a new version takes its place. It isn't just that Europe is destroyed. A free Europe is replaced by a different Europe, implied to be the opposite of what is destroyed in this case (so a not-free Europe).

For that reason, I think that the adjective and indefinite pronoun do actually add a degree of meaning that isn't available without them. However, I do think it is nonrestrictive use. It doesn't have to be there for the sentence to make sense, and we are not limiting anything - we are just adding a further degree of information through implication.

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  • Thank you, Alex! I guess I'll never understand the use of a there. I understand perfectly "an embarrassed Ben Miles", but "a free Europe" seems just not to work logically. Dec 16 '15 at 18:58
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    @CopperKettle Yeah, "an embarrassed Ben . . . " can be replaced by "Ben, who was embarrassed, . . .", though it doesn't sound as smooth. In your quote, however, "a free Europe" carries more weight and implication to what is left after the crumbling.
    – Alex K
    Dec 16 '15 at 19:05
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    @CopperKettle my first language was actually Russian, though I grew up in the US, so I've been trying to find an equivalent in Russian for you, but I can't seem to think of anything close.
    – Alex K
    Dec 16 '15 at 19:06
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    I'm glad to hear you're Russian! Well, maybe it's "видение свободной Европы", "мечта о свободной Европе", "идея свободной Европы... рассыпается в прах". (a vision of free Europe, a dream of free Europe, an idea of free Europe ... crumbles to dust). (to mods: please do not delete my comments with Cyrillic text: I do provide a translation, and they're but comments) Dec 16 '15 at 19:09
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    @CopperKettle The last one is closest, but it doesn't convey the same implication that the phrase has in English on what free Europe will be replaced with. I'll keep thinking about it though!
    – Alex K
    Dec 16 '15 at 19:12

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