Revistes Catalanes amb Accés Obert (RACO)

The Acquisition of Pragmatic Competence through Virtual English Learning

Mar Gutiérrez-Colón Plana


This paper discusses how virtual learners of English at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) use hedges (a strategy by which speakers mitigate and soften the force of their utterances) in written discourse (electronic mails). It begins with a description of the methodology, in particular the taxonomy used, which adopts and transforms elements from three already existing taxonomies of hedges (Prince, Frader and Bosk (1982), Salager-Meyer (1994) and Fortanet et al. (1998)), and also uses new ones. After studying the hedges in the e-mails of the virtual learners and comparing them with those of a control group (a group of Australian students), I drew the following conclusion: the autonomy (and critical spirit) of the students is fostered by e-learning. They have to cope with real messages, which encourage and improve the acquisition of pragmatic competence.

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