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


Thus, the unmarked member of the pair making no specific claim to Result, is the more flexible, neutral, and open-ended of the two. It allows for any and all kinds of perceptions of actions, states, or events. The marked member of the pair, making a specific claim for Result, is reserved for those linguistic and situational contexts where an action, state, or event must be perceived resultatively: i.e., taking its result in the form of a goal, consequence, conclusion, destination, telic end-point, etc., into account.

In summary, this analysis is based on the assumption that the choice between these linguistic signs is not determined arbitrarily by a kind of rule, nor for reasons of style or register, but rather that the total non-random distribution of these signs in the language is directly motivated by the subtle semantic distinction that exists between them. This subtle semantic distinction is expressed in their marked versus unmarked invariant meanings which revolve around the features of Process and Result: i.e., alternative ways of perceiving actions, states, and events in the world.

Previous analyses of Process and Result (Tobin 1993) analyzed the following troublesome lexical verb pairs: do (U) versus make (M), look (U) versus see (M), listen (U) versus hear (M), say (U) versus tell (M), speak (U) versus talk (M), begin (U) versus start (M), end versus start (M), shut versus close (M) as well as other lexical verbs, parts of speech other than verbs, phrasal verbs and aspectuals; the role of the features Process and Result in grammaticalization (the development from lexicon to grammar) of specific verbs such as the auxiliary uses of the verbs: do (in interrogative, negative, and emphatic / imperative constructions, be versus get (in passive constructions), and be versus have (in progressive / continuous versus perfect tenses or aspects; as well as in lexicalization (the development from grammar to lexicon) of irregular verbs in English, irregular infinitives in Hebrew, and different form classes of infinitives in Spanish, French, and Italian.

In particular, Tobin (1993) presents analyses of how the same marked semantic feature Result which already was shown to be part of the lexicon also can become part of the grammar. Specifically, we trace the development of the troublesome lexical pairs begin versus start and end versus finish into aspectual verbs and extend this process of grammaticalization to the analysis of the verbs do and be (neutral or unmarked verbs par excellence) and get and have (archetypical verbs marked for the distinctive feature Result) in their use as auxiliaries in the formation of different sentence modalities (negative, interrogative, emphatic / imperative for do) as well as in passive (be versus get) and progressive or continuous (be) versus perfect (have) constructions. Finally, I postulate how the same marked semantic feature Result may serve as a basis to explain what was previously thought of as phonologically motivated irregularities in certain verbs in English and defective triconsonantal (CCC) roots in Semitic languages, and present the feature as a means to explain irregular infinitive forms in Hebrew as well as the various form classes of infinitives in Spanish, French and Italian. Tobin (1994/1995) analyzes the following troublesome lexical pairs in Hebrew according to the same features Process and Result: lomar (U) vs. lehagid (M) = 'to say/tell', lehamtin (U) versus lexakot (M) = 'to wait', laxzor (U) versus lashuv (M) = 'to return', lehatxil (U) versus lehaxel (M) = 'to begin/start', and lesayem(U) versus ligmor (M) = 'to end/finish/complete'.

In the present analysis I claim that the sign until is marked for Result while the sign till is unmarked for Process and Result. According to this analysis, this troublesome, "synonymous" lexical pair shares a semantic domain of bringing entities to a spatial-temporal-existential boundary. Until is marked for Result = makes a specific claim for the feature Result: i.e., the result, goal, consequence, conclusion, destination, telic end-point, etc. is either stated explicitly or implied. Till is unmarked for the feature Result = makes no specific claim or is neutral concerning the feature Result: i.e., either the process and/or the result may be stated explicitly or implied.

B. Chronos versus Kairos

According to Kermode (1985:76) there are two ways that time is perceived and defined in Greek:

(a)Chronos, which indicates the "passing of time" or "waiting time," i.e. duration;
(b)Kairos, which indicates "a point in time filled with a significance, charged with a meaning derived from its relation to the end."

If we view these two temporal notions as semantic features, and postulate that Kairos, the more cognitively complex of the two, is the marked feature, and then apply these features to the signs till and until, we can further expand our analysis as follows: the sign until marked for Result is also marked for the temporal feature Kairos while the sign till unmarked for Process/Result is also unmarked for the temporal features Chronos / Kairos.

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AS/SA Nº 8, Article 2 : Page 4 / 10

© 1999, Applied Semiotics / Sémiotique appliquée

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