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


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Examples (23)-(24) with a multiple use of the unmarked form till emphasize the long duration of long periods of time in which results may or may not be implied:

(23) "So the stuff piles up and tourists won't be back here till spring. It's a long time till the hackensacks and lederhosen come over the alps maestro. Stil, because it's you and I admire your skill, I'll offer you two thousand lire, take it or leave it." (Bernard Malamud, Pictures of Fidelman. An Exhibition, p.124) (Process: duration of time oriented).

(24) ... but when he remembered that the Wellends did not expect the wedding to take place till the following autumn, and pictured what his life would be till then, a dampness fell upon his spirits. (Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence, p.63) (Process: duration of time oriented).


IV. Macrolevel Data - From Sign to Text

The "from-sign-to-text" approach (Aphek and Tobin 1988, 1989/1990; Tobin 1988, 1990, 1993, 1994/1995) is based on the following principles:

i. The distribution of the marked versus the unmarked forms is not random, but is skewed along thematic lines within specific texts.
ii. The choice and preference of the marked form or the unmarked forms can be directly related to particular themes, specific characters and recurring or related events in the plot or subplots within the text.
iii. Therefore the choice and preference of the marked or unmarked forms can serve as part of a larger system of textual coherence and cohesion.

The from-sign-to-text approach will be used to analyze three texts: Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and The Catcher in the Rye and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters by J.D. Salinger, all of which have a highly skewed distribution of the forms (multiple instances of till with a single or only two instances of until).


A. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain: 97 till / 2 until

The text describes the escape of Huck Finn and Jim, a slave and the process of their escape and adventures. Huck is running away from his drunken father and from society (the people who are attempting to educate and civilize him). Jim is running away from his mistress, and is trying to get up North to be free. The story depicts the development of the process of Huck becoming mature and the effect it has on his relationship with Jim. Therefore it is not surprising that there is a significant preference for the unmarked form till (97) in these themes relating the process of the escape and Huck's maturing and his relationship with Jim:

(25) "... and I told Jim to float along down, and show a light when he judged he had gone about two mile, and keep it burning till I come." (128) (Jim running away on a raft to be joined later by Huck).

(26) "I been setting here talking with you all night till I reckon you went to sleep ten minutes ago, and I reckon I done the same." (141) (Huck and Jim lose each other and when Huck finds Jim that he (Jim) was dreaming).

(27) "I went to the raft, and set down in the wigwam to think. But I couldn't come to nothing . I thought till I wore my head sore, but I couldn't see no way out of the trouble." (281) (Jim is caught and Huck thinks of what to do).

(28) "So we dug and dug, with the case-knives till most midnight... (318) (Tom and Huck trying to help Jim escape by digging into his cabin)

The two examples of the marked form until are related to Huck's realizing the significance of Jim becoming a free man and his role in this and its implications for him in adult society (the major result-oriented theme in this text. It is at these crucial result-oriented points in the story that we have the marked form: until:

(29) "My conscience got to stirring me up hotter than ever, until at last I says to it: 'Let up on me þ it ain't too late, yet þ I'll paddle ashore at the first light, and tell.'" (146) (Huck is having ambivalent feelings about helping Jim run away, and this is the point when Huck decides to tell on Jim).

(30) "... and so, sure enough, Tom Sawyer had gone and took all that trouble and bother to set a free nigger free! and I couldn't ever understand, before until that minute and that talk, how he could help a body set a nigger free, with his bringing up." (366) (The moment when Huck realizes that Jim had been set free and that Tom helped him to run away because Tom knew he was free).







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AS/SA Nº 8, Article 2 : Page 7 / 10


© 1999, Applied Semiotics / Sémiotique appliquée

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1999.12.04