Yishai Tobin: "Till vs Until: A Sign-Oriented Approach"


C. Temporal analysis

Other scholars point out a difference between a specific or punctual until versus a durative till (differing with Mittwoch above) without explaining why this difference occurs:

Until indicates a time that stops at the beginning of another time. Until introduces a time phrase or a time clause which expresses a specific time, not duration. (Praninskas 1959)

Although the above statement may have descriptive validity, the question of what motivates this temporal distinction has not been answered.

D. Word order analysis

Hornby (1961, 1978) mentions a preference for until in sentence-initial position:

Until is preferred at the beginning of a sentence. Hornby (1961:103, 1978:922)

Yet the above statement does not preclude initial position for till and does not explain why this preference is motivated, if at all. (An example of till in initial position is found in our corpus in The Catcher in the Rye (Salinger 1954: 91). In a recent e-mail discussion (The Linguist List, 5 August 1997) dealing with the alternative word orders of the phrases not... until/Until ... not the following hypotheses were presented:

Debora Berkley wrote:

When the "until" phrase is moved to the beginning of the sentence, it means that the event referred to in the "until" phrase was a dividing point between a time when something was not true and a time when the thing was or could be true...

Nick Caffrey wrote:

[... ] By putting the "until x" first, an expectation is created that the following phrase will describe an imperfect process. e.g.:
3. Until nine, he didn't lift his hand from the task.
4. Until six in the morning, she hung on for dear life.

In these examples, the expectation is that the process is terminated, i.e. the task ended, she ceased to hang on, at the specified time. These descriptive statements serve to support our analysis in section II.

E. Diachronic analysis

A summary of the development of till into until and related forms for prosodic, euphonic, or pragmatic reasons (without ever mentioning a semantic distinction between them) has also been attested to:

Till/until/'til: The original English word was till; for metre, rhythm, euphony, emphasis or whatever reason, it acquired a variant, until, which was later in less formal contexts, contracted to 'til. The form 'till is not attested except as a misspelling of 'til or till, Bloomsbury Dictionary of Differences (Urdang 1988)

Diachronic analyses are inherently interesting but do not explain the choice of one form over another in those periods of time when they both exist side by side in the language.

Page - 1     Page + 1

AS/SA Nº 8, Article 2 : Page 2 / 10

© 1999, Applied Semiotics / Sémiotique appliquée

E-mail to the editors
Pour écrire à la rédaction