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


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In short, the invariant meanings of these signs are:

till (U) = Process/Result + Chronos/Kairos
until (M) = Result + Kairos.


III. Microlevel Data

The following section presents microlevel data: i.e., sentences in context which will be followed by macrolevel data based on the "from sign to text" approach to discourse analysis (Aphek and Tobin 1988, 1999, Tobin 1988, 1989, 1990, 1993, 1994/1995).

A. Minimal Pairs

Examples (1-10) present sentences where one of the forms appeared. If a minimal pair with the second form is postulated it results in a different message. The difference in message can be directly attributed to the markedness relationship between them. Examples (1-3) appear originally with the marked form until (RESULT/KAIROS) indicating a significant point in time which may be perceived as a condition or consequence. If the marked form until is replaced by the unmarked form till, a durational message is obtained:

(1) Pollard would not be freed until a direct request is made by Rabin.
(Jerusalem Post, 25.7.93) (until = condition/consequence), (till = duration)

(2) He won't die until his heart stops beating.
(until = condition/consequence) (till = duration)

(3) He will not bury her until she is officially considered dead.
(until = condition) (till = duration)

Examples (4-7) are expressions which appear with the unmarked form till. If till is replaced with the marked form until a more explicit resultative rather than durational message is obtained for each of them:

(4) Wait till the cows come home... (duration) (until = and then what?/consequence).

(5) Wait till hell freezes over... (duration) (until = and then what?/consequence).

(6) I will love you till the seas run dry. (till = duration) (until = condition/consequence).

(7) "for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part"
(until = condition/consequence).

Examples (8a-b) appear in an Ernest Hemingway novel, where the marked form until indicates a condition and the unmarked form till indicates duration. Once again, had the forms been exchanged, the messages as well would have been reversed:

(8)(a) "You better wait until the shelling is over," the major said over his soldier.
(until = condition) (Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms, p.42).

(8) (b) "Alright, wait till I get cleaned up." (till = duration) (p.17)

Examples (9a-b) appeared in a volume by Amos Oz with until indicating a condition and till indicating a duration. Once again, had the forms been reversed, the messages would have changed accordingly:

(9)(a) They stay here until they can make enough money to move into the city.
(until = condition) (Amos Oz, The Land of Israel, p.28).

(b) Others come and gather round till it resembles an outdoor park debate.
(till = duration) (p.32).

Examples (10a-b) come from a novel by Franz Kafka. Both forms appear and indicate a resultative message, but only the unmarked form allows for a durational message while the marked form until appears in the stronger resultative message which does not allow for a durational interpretation:

(10)(a) He was determined to push forward till he reached his sister.
(till = direction/goal) (Franz Kafka, Metamorphosis, p.121).

(b) Gregor, attracted by the playing, ventured to move forward a little until his head was actually in the living room.
(until = consequence/goal) (p.120)


B. Non-Free Variation

Examples (11)-(20) are sentences culled from 19th and 20th Century novels, the Bible, conversation, correspondence, and a popular song by Madonna, where both forms appear in the same context. Once again, the unmarked form till indicates a durational message while a resultative interpretation is obtained from the marked form until:

(11) He worked from morning till night until he was too tired to keep his eyes open.

(12) I am bringing a Ron Bennett with me to work with me on my house. I don't think I will have anything for him to do until May at the earliest, but he doesn't want to hang about England till then.

(13) "Well, he wasn't always a butler; he used to be a silver polisher for some people in New York that had a silver service for two hundred people. He had to polish it from morning till night, until it finally began to affect his nose." ... "Things went from bad to worse," suggested Miss Baker. "Yes. Things went from bad to worse until finally he had to give up his position." (F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, p.20).








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AS/SA Nº 8, Article 2 : Page 5 / 10


© 1999, Applied Semiotics / Sémiotique appliquée

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1999.12.04