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


(32)     The Lieutenant scrutinized the photograph — rather severely, I thought, as though he by no means approved of the way Mrs. Silsburn, who after all was a civilian as well as a woman, had asked him to examine it. "Muriel," he said shortly. "Looks like Muriel in this picture. The hair and all."
"But exactly!" said Mrs. Silsburn. She turned to me. But exactly," she repeated. "Have you ever met Muriel? I mean have you ever seen her when she's had her hair tied in a lovely big —"
"I've never seen Muriel at all until today," I said.
"Well, all right, just take my word." Mrs. Silsburn tapped the photograph impressively with her index finger. "This child could double for Muriel at that age. But to a T." (83).

In all of the above examples we find that the marked form until is linked with key themes which entail a resultative-oriented kind of discovery at a crucial time in the denouement of the text — as befits a marked form. The unmarked form, on the other hand, serves as part of the backgrounding material in the text and appears much more frequently and in a wide variety of contexts — as befits an unmarked form. It also should be remembered that the marked form until may be more appropriate and/or frequent in other kinds of specialized texts — such as cooking books or sets of instructions — where its specific claim for resultativeness and/or a specific kairos kind of time plays a crucial role in the text.

V. Summary and Conclusions

(1) TILL and UNTIL are not synonyms.

(2) UNTIL is marked for the distinctive feature RESULT which makes it suitable to represent time from the point of view of KAIROS: "a point in time filled with a significance, charged with a meaning derived from its relation to the end."

(3) TILL is unmarked for PROCESS/RESULT which makes it suitable to represent time both as CHRONOS: "passing of time" or "waiting time" or KAIROS.

(4) This semantic distinction is what motivates their non-random distribution in both spoken and written discourse on the micro- and the macro-levels.

(5) The theoretical and methodological motto of this paper is therefore:


Even though the semantic distinction between TILL/UNTIL is subtle, in the words of Dwight Bolinger (1971:17): ... who says semantic distinctions have to be gross?

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AS/SA Nº 8, Article 2 : Page 9 / 10

© 1999, Applied Semiotics / Sémiotique appliquée

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