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


B. The Catcher in the Rye: 25 till / 1 until

The classic novel Catcher in the Rye has symbolized the search-of-self for several generations. It recounts the adventures of Holden Caufield, a troubled teenager who has just been expelled from a private school, for a few days in New York before he can go home officially for the Christmas vacation. These adventures not only fill in his time but also give expression to his way of viewing the world and life as a typically mixed up adolescent rejecting the hypocrisy of phony adult society and his search for a better and more real world. Not surprisingly, this text appears with 25 instances of the unmarked form till to indicate events which fill up his time. There is however one example of the marked form until which introduces a recurrent leitmotif in the text: where do the ducks from the Central Park lake go in the winter when the lake freezes over. This theme can be related to Holden's search for a better world and appears in the text as a recurrent question whose answer plays an important role in Holden's sense of himself and the world and as a barometer or seismograph of his relationships with other people. The following example juxtaposes the use of both forms in a passage describing Holden's taking a cab when he arrives in New York, mistakenly giving his parents' address and then having to decide where to go and what to do before he can show up at home:

(31)   I'm so damned absent-minded, I gave the driver my regular address, just out of habit and all — I mean I completely forgot I was going to shack up in a hotel for a couple of days and not go home till vacation started. I didn't think of it till we were halfway through the park. Then I said. "Hey, do you mind turning when you get a chance I gave you the wrong address. I want to go back downtown."
The driver was sort of a wise guy. "I can't turn around here, Mac. This here's a one-way. I'll have to go all the way to Ninedieth Street now."
I didn't want to start an argument. "Okay," I said. Then I thought of something, all of a sudden. "Hey, listen," I said. "You know the ducks in that lagoon right near Central Park South? That little lake? By any chance, do you happen to know where they go, the ducks, when it gets all frozen over? Do you happen to know, by any chance?" I realized it was only one chance in a million.
He turned around and looked at me like I was a madman. "What're ya tryna do, bud?" he said, "Kid me?"
"No — I was just interested, that's all."
He didn't say anything more, so I didn't either. Until we came out of the park at Ninetieth Street. Then he said, "All right, buddy. Where to?" (60).

C. Salinger's Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters: 10 till, 1 until

This short story recounts the first person account of a soldier on leave to attend his brother's wedding in New York City. The wedding does not place because the groom did not show up and the soldier eventually finds himself riding in a car with the members of the wedding party and the bride's relatives, who, because of a parade blocking traffic, all end up in the soldier's and his brother's apartment. In this text as well, there is a significant preference for the unmarked form till and only a single instance of the marked form until. Once again, the marked form appears in the context of a very important and relevant theme or discovery. One of the questions constantly being asked by the members of the wedding party and the bride's family is why the groom has abandoned the bride. The soldier, himself, actually wonders why his brother even got involved with the bride in the first place. The answer appears to be that the bride resembles a young girl, now a famous movie star, with whom the groom was in love many years before. The single instance of until appears in the context of the bride's aunt discovering a picture of the movie star as a child, asking another guest, a Lieutenant, whom the girl resembles, and then verifying that she could pass as the bride's double while the soldier admits that he had never actually seen the bride before:

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AS/SA Nº 8, Article 2 : Page 8 / 10

© 1999, Applied Semiotics / Sémiotique appliquée

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