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


II. Analysis

A. Process versus Result

In this paper I will present an alternative analysis based on the concept of Process and Result in language (Tobin 1993) which will provide a semantic distinction between the forms till and until that will account for their non- synonymy and explain their distribution. The postulation of the features Process and Result is based on the assumption that language may reflect two fundamental ways of viewing actions, states, or events, either as focusing on the (ongoing) process involved in the action, state, or event, or, alternatively, from the point of view of the result (outcome, endpoint, consequence, completion, destination, or telic, or teleological goal).

The features of Process and Result explain the semantic distinction between troublesome lexical pairs in a unified and systematic way. This alternative approach involves a semantic analysis based on the semiotic or sign-oriented notions of invariance, markedness, and distinctive feature theory (Tobin 1990, 1993, 1994/1995). My analysis of troublesome lexical pairs is based on the following six principles:

  1. Both members of such pairs share a common semantic domain.
  2. It is this shared domain which has allowed for the assumption that the forms are (at least closely) synonymous.
  3. I maintain, however, that the members of the lexical pair not synonyms, but rather each possesses a single invariant meaning which distinguishes it from the other, and will motivate its distribution in the language.
  4. These invariant meanings are in a marked/unmarked relationship revolving around the features of Process and Result which refer to alternative ways of perceiving actions, states, or events in the world.
  5. This particular marked/unmarked relationship is an asymmetric one which may be stated here in the form of discourse instructions:
    (a) the marked (M) form makes a specific claim for the feature Result: i.e., an action, state, or event must be viewed from the point of view of result, goal, consequence, conclusion, destination, telic end-point, etc. which may be explicitly stated or implied.
    (b) the unmarked (U) form makes no specific claim or is neutral for the semantic feature Result: i.e., an action, state. or event may be viewed either from the point of view of a Process and/or a Result which may be explicitly stated or implied.
  6. The feature Result has been chosen as the marked feature because it involves a more complex cognitive perception: an action, state, or event must not be viewed in a partial or immediate manner, merely from its "outset" and/or during its performance or execution, but must be viewed in a holistic way which necessarily includes its Result (goal, consequence, conclusion, destination, telic end-point.)

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AS/SA Nº 8, Article 2 : Page 3 / 10

© 1999, Applied Semiotics / Sémiotique appliquée

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