LINGUIST List 8.1141

Wed Aug 6 1997

Sum: Not..Until/Until..Not, Question on Word

Editor for this issue: Martin Jacobsen <>


  1. Hiroaki Tanaka, Summary:not...until/Until..., not
  2. Jonathan Gilbert, Collected responses to question

Message 1: Summary:not...until/Until..., not

Date: Tue, 5 Aug 1997 15:05:58 +0900
From: Hiroaki Tanaka <>
Subject: Summary:not...until/Until..., not

Dear Linguists,

 I posted a query on the acceptabilities of
_not...until.../Until..., not..." on LINGUIST List: Vol-8-1056., Mon
Jul 14 1997. 12 people responded to my query. I must say great thanks
to the following people.

Elsa Lattey
Bruce D. Despain 
Bart Mathias
David Harris< >
Deborah Milam Berkley
Nick Caffrey
stephen p spackman
Karl Hagen
Peter T. Daniels<>

My query was as follows:

> The problem is this: (1) "Not...until" like "He didn't wake up
> until 9" is said to imply or assert (in Declerck's terminology) that
> he did wake up at 9. But what about if we move "until" phrase before
> "not" clause, like "Until 9, he didn't wake up"?

> Does it mean or imply that he did wake up 9? If so, what is the
> between the original "not...until 9" and the rephrased "Until 9,
> ..not..."?

> I will quote two actual examples from "The Daily Telegraph." an
> one invented example. Please make any commnets about the
> implication of the above actualization problem, i.e., whether or not
> the sentences imply that the event of the "not" clause is
> actualized/actually occur at the time of "until" clause specifies.
> And do they mean the same thing to you as "not...until" phrasing?

> (2) College barbers have not been long extinct. "Until" the
> popularity of the Volunteer movement cast a military air over
> civilian manners, the cultivation of beards and moustaches was "not"
> allowed by the authorities. (The Daily Telegraph, Dec. 21, 1993)

> (3) Today's Exchange board meeting will consider the results of
> recent tests which connected members' computers to the central
> Taurus system for the first time. A spokeswoman said: "Until" that
> testing began in January we could "not" make a realistic ssessment
> of the system. (The Daily Telegraph, Mar. 11, 1993)

> (4) Detective: Do you know what Mary was doing on the night of
> August 1st? 
 Landlady: Until 10 that night, she didn't come home.
> (What about "She didn't come home until 10 that night"?)

 Most surprising to me(as a non-native speaker of English),
_Until.., not..._ is not acceptable by most of the people except one
or two, when the phrase following the Until-clause is only 9 o'clock
or 10 o'clock. Therefore, (1) and (4) are not possible English. All of
them agreed that (3) and (4) are OK, probably because there are two
actions indictated. In (1), _Until 9, he didn't wake up_ has only one
action in the sentence. I will quote the reason for this by some
people below:
Deborah Milam Berkley wrote:
> When the "until" phrase is moved to the beginning of the sentence,
it means that the event referred to in the "until" phrase was a
dividing point between a time when something was not true and a time
when that thing was or could be true. Therefore the example in (4)
sounds strange, like the sentence in (1). It would mean that before
10 that night, she never came home, but after 10 she started coming
home again. "She didn't come home until 10 that night" means that
on that particular night, she came home at 10. It seems to also
indicate that the period before 10 was somehow important; if she had
come home before 10, something important might have been different.
"She came home at 10 that night" just tells what time she came home,
but "She didn't come home until 10 that night" expresses some sort of
>information about the importance of the time on that night.

Nick Caffrey wrote: 	
Here the action is the popularity which is using
> the 'until' not the allowing which has the negation.

>you could say 'not until' the popularity of the ....... was the
>cultivation of ......... allowed by the authorities. yes, here the
'not' and the 'until' action are occuring at the same time. only that
we are talking about two different actions. so that it seems o.k. in
(1) only one thing is happening and it can't be allowed and negated
at the same time. that's the feeling i get when i read the 'until 9
he didn't wake up'.

> By putting the "until x" first, an expectation is created that
>the following phrase will describe an imperfective process. e.g.:

>3. Until nine, he didn't lift his head from the task.
>4. Until six in the morning, she hung on for dear life.

>In these examples, the expectation is that the process is terminated
- i.e. the task ended, she ceased to hang on, - at the specified

 stephen p spackman wrote:

> The difference between not-until and until-not is one of focus; in
>not-until we are discussing the outcome, while in until-not we are
>discussing the conditioning factor. This makes "until 9 he didn't
wake up" pragmatically odd - 9-o'-clockishness is not a very
interesting topic of discussion. It can be fixed; "Until 9 he didn't
wake up. Nine was when the muffins were baked and the smells of
cooking wafted into his bedroom....". This must be what's happening
in your example (4); the landlady is taking a cue from detective
stories and assuming that exact timings are the point of discussion.

 The implicatuires of actualization in _not...until..._ and
_Until..., not..._ are nearly the same. However, there are slight
diffeences between the strong and weak implcture, like _He didn't wake
up until 9_ and He didn't say another word until he died._

 Thank you very much for all of your help. 

Best Wishes,

Hiroaki Tanaka

Associate Professor
Faculty of Integrated Arts and Sciences
Tokushima University, Japan
1-1, Minamijousanjioma,
Tokushima, 770,

phone & fax: +81 886 56 7125
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Message 2: Collected responses to question

Date: Tue, 05 Aug 1997 12:13:41 -0500
From: Jonathan Gilbert <>
Subject: Collected responses to question

Thanks to all who responded with suggestions of words for the
situation where a word becomes interchangeable with another, usually
different word. One of you suggested that I collect the responses and
post them to the list(s) ... so here you are.

Most responses suggested what were really similar or related
phenomena: jargon, slang, argot, hidden or secret language, private
speech, semantic drift or semantic shift, and metonymy (good

A few "unofficial" but descriptive phrases were suggested: "contextual
synonymy" and "is synonymous with the usual meaning of ..."

And finally, the verbs (a verb was really what my friend who
originally posed me the question was looking for) "collapse",
"confuse", and "conflate". My friend decided that "conflate" was the
word she needed, meaning "to put two things together so that they form
one unit."

Thanks again to all; we're both quite impressed by how much response
the question has generated! 

Jonathan Gilbert

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