I've noticed a strange quirk of Delhi English—people say "until" when
they really mean "while", and are oblivious to the inverted meaning of
the resulting sentence. It sounds so wrong that I find it hard to think
of an example:
We can't go out until it is raining.
There's a related (and perhaps slightly more common) but even more
bizarre-sounding variant that has an extra negative:
We can't go out until it doesn't stop raining.
(In neither case does the speaker want to go out into the rain.)
I guess the root of this confusion lies in the translation of the Hindi
phrase "जब तक" to "until" when it is often
used to mean "so long as" (especially in conjunction with an extra
negative; see below). Substituting the latter translation usually fixes
We can't go out so long as it doesn't stop
raining sounds tortured, but the logic is sound.
Unfortunately, my grasp of Hindi grammar is not nearly subtle enough to
judge which of the translations is more correct, and when. Taken in
isolation, it seems to make perfect sense to translate "जब
तक" as "until", but that's not how the phrase seems to be
used. If I want to say
We can't go out until it stops
raining in Hindi, I have to add a negative and say
” ("… जब तक it doesn't stop raining"),
which implies that "so long as" is the better translation. If I leave
out that negative and say
” ("… जब तक it stops raining"), my
sentence feels incomplete and the "जब तक"
seems to mean "by the time" more than anything else.
Is it ever correct to translate "जब
तक" as "until"? I don't know whom to ask.
Oh well, so long as next time!
Update (2010-04-10): I asked a number of people who speak better
Hindi than I do, and none of them were able to think of an example where
"until" is the appropriate translation.