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If an ESL person who is mainly English-speaking now is referring to his relationship with the English language, is English their adopted or adoptive main language? (Or are neither of the words correct in this context in the first place?)

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up vote 1 down vote accepted

Adoptive refers to the thing doing the adopting, so you would be the language's adoptive user.

Adopted refers to the thing that is adopted, it is your adopted language.

I think it is fine to use adopted in this sense. It implies that you have taken the language on as if it were your own.

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It's true adopted is far more common for this context, but I don't see anything wrong with adoptive - it's a somewhat "metaphoric" usage either way round, so it's not unreasonable for the mother tongue to "adopt" non-native speakers. – FumbleFingers Apr 2 '12 at 12:22
@FumbleFingers: ...yes, except that 'adoptive langauge' is much rarer than 'adopted language' and interestingly almost nonexistent in British English. – Mitch Apr 2 '12 at 13:00
Yes, as I said, adopted is far more common. I'm just saying that constructions like my adoptive homeland don't seem unreasonable to me. I think it's more a matter of "majority" rather than "correct" usage. – FumbleFingers Apr 2 '12 at 13:06

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