Teaching “Flim”

“Ms. Ehrlich, I wanna be in your FLIM class next term.”

“Great, but it’s FILL-M,’ ” I said, stressing the correct pronunciation.

“Whatever, as long as I can be in it.”

The above was a fairly common exchange I had with many of my high school students over the years.

 “Flim” was actually a common mispronunciation among those students from India, Pakistan, Guyana or other Indo-Caribbean nations. Some were bright, others less so, but it was seemingly impossible to correct their pronunciation at this stage of their lives. It was obvious that the mispronunciation of “film” ran in the family, sort of an inherited mental  bloc, but it is also very possible that “film” is generally pronounced “flim” in the West Indies.


            {It should be noted that there are about one hundred sixty-seven nationalities  residing in Queens. One hundred and sixteen languages are spoken there, making it the most diverse county according to the 2000 Census. One of my journalism students took a survey and found no fewer than eighty languages spoken by our student body! Hence, the Richmond Hill High School motto: “Diversity is our Strength.”}

            As a sidebar: I can’t help but think of our very own former President G.W. Bush, whose annoying mispronunciation of nuclear has been attributed to metathesis rather than ignorance by the language maven, the late William Safire. When that came up in class (I brought it up, of course), we practiced saying “nuclear” rather than the incorrect “nukular.” In preparation for this mini-lesson, I researched other words in that pattern and came up with jocular, molecular, secular and vascular. I told the class that those were the only words that end with “cular.” I thought I had the interest of the whole class as I presented the list and then a hand shot up. “Ms. Ehrlich, more New York Times words, right? Are we gettin’ a test on these?” he asked, fully expecting one.

            “No, so you can ignore me.” I almost heard the collective sighs of relief.

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