The concept "were" can indicated by using the sign "PAST."
However, in ASL we tend to put "time concepts" at the beginning of our
sentence or story thus eliminating the need for a separate sign for "was."
For example, if I signed, "last-WEEK THEY BROKE-financially" it would
mean, "They were broke last week." By putting "past tense" markers at the
beginning of ASL sentences we make it clear that we are talking about the
PAST: The sign for "past" is
made by moving your dominant hand over your dominant shoulder. Your palm should face your body. The more emphasis you give the motion
and/or the larger movement you use indicates further into the past:
You may see someone use a sign for "WERE" that starts as a "W" and turns
into an "R" as it moves backward over the shoulder. That is not ASL.
It is Signed English.
While you may see some Deaf people use the Signed English version of "were,"
I don't recommend you use that version in your ASL class nor on an ASL test.
Quite a few Deaf people were mainstreamed, had teachers who didn't know ASL
that well, and/or attended school programs where the mode of communication
was Signed English. That means in the Deaf Community you will often see a
mixture of signs being used.
Hearing people (especially students) should resist the temptation to
correct the signing of their Deaf friends who sign a bit of English here and
there (just let it go and don't worry about it -- culturally it is not your
place to correct our signing). I do however encourage you to
strive to sign in a manner that is reflective of the signing generally
produced by native Deaf ASL signers who have attended ASL-based
instructional programs at residential Schools for the Deaf.
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