Brannon (1968), in an elicited language task, showed that deaf children used 35% fewer verbs, 87% fewer adverbs, and 60% fewer prepositions than hearing subjects did. Since phrasal verbs contain verbs, adverbs, and prepositions, one would expect deaf children to use fewer phrasal verbs, as well.
Kluwin (1979), in a study using elicited writing samples from deaf adolescents, found improper use of both literal and nonliteral prepositions by subjects. Since literal and nonliteral prepositions are an important component of phrasal verbs, one would expect deaf children to use them improperly in phrasal verbs, as well.
Odom and Blanton (1967) found that deaf students who learned sequences of words were not influenced by natural phrasing. For example, their deaf participants had equal difficulty in learning a sequence like "paid the tall lady," which has natural phrasing, as they had in learning a sequence where the word order was jumbled such as in "lady tall the paid." In contrast, the hearing participants remembered more easily the sequences with the natural phrasing. The implication is that deaf students would also have difficulty learning phrasal verbs, for the ability to attend to phrasing is an important requisite for learning phrasal verbs.
Research on phrasal verbs
Payne (1982, 1987), in a comprehension study with 45 hearing participants between ages 8 and 12 and 45 prelingually profoundly deaf participants between ages 10 and 19, found the phrasal verbs to be well established in the hearing participants but extremely problematic for the deaf participants.
Order of syntactic difficulty
The syntactic combination that was easiest for the deaf students to comprehend in the Payne study was the prepositional-phrase sequence (VPO):
climb out the window
The syntactic combinations of medium difficulty were VA, VAO, and VAPO:
take out the garbage
jump up on the table
The syntactic combination that was most difficult was the one with the small adverb after the noun (VOA):
turn the money down
Order of semantic difficulty
The easiest semantic category for deaf students to comprehend in the Payne study was the literal category.
The semantic categories that were significantly more difficult for deaf students to comprehend were the semi-idiomatic and idiomatic categories.
wash up (wash face and hands)
take off (fly away)
Summary of Research Findings
The order of syntactic difficulty for deaf students in the study by Payne is as follows:
VA, VAO, VAPO (of medium difficulty)
VOA (most difficult)
The order of semantic difficulty for deaf subjects in the study by Payne is as follows
Semi-idiomatic and idiomatic (more difficult)