This article is concerned with the acquisition of pragmatic competence in a foreign language, more specifically with the acquisition of mitigation processes constituting a widely used conversational strategy. The study is based on the hypothesis that, despite their advanced lexical and grammatical abilities, learners fail to acquire the full range of pragmatic skills in this area. They do, however, possess a pragmatic consciousness which enables them to compensate their shortcomings through the use of linguistic means which are familiar to them.
The study examines conversations recorded with 55 French learners of German, as well as 56 native German speakers. It analyses the processes of mitigation resorted to by the learners as well as by the native speakers to attenuate their discourse. This contrastive approach allows a systematic evaluation of the pragmatic competence of learners in this area.