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This study examined temporal reference marking in texts written by Dutch deaf children and adults who differed in sign language proficiency. The temporal reference marking systems in Dutch and Sign Language of the Netherlands (SLN) differ substantially, with Dutch having a wide range of lexical and morphological markers of temporal reference, and SLN relying on lexical marking of temporal reference. The results showed that the youngest proficient signers had difficulties with tense morphology: they avoided the marked past tense form in narratives and omitted verbs, but showed no problems with lexical marking of temporal reference. In the older proficient signing writers, verb morphology emerged, and in proficient signing adults temporal reference marking resembled that of the hearing adults. This study shows that in order to gain more insight into deaf people's writing, it is important to adopt a bilingual perspective and take variations in sign language proficiency into account.
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