SAY MY NAME, SAY MY NAME

NBC’s refusal to say Pyeongchang correctly sends a clear—and ugly—message

Our thoughts exactly.
Our thoughts exactly.
Image: David W Cerny/Reuters
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If you’re in the US watching the Olympics on NBC, chances are, you’re saying Pyeongchang wrong. Both the way the name has been written in Roman script and the way that the TV network has persisted in pronouncing it on air would lead you to believe that the final syllable rhymes with “twang.”

It does not. It rhymes with the American pronunciation of “bong,” with kind of an open-mouthed “AH.” The Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) released a video last week advocating for and demonstrating proper usage (“AH—like when you go and see your doctor”):

As SportsBusiness Journal reported back in November, NBC bandied about both rhymes-with-twang and rhymes-with-bong, and ultimately decided on twang, because, as Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Broadcasting and Sports put it, “It’s cleaner.” This is despite the fact, pointed out by the Washington Post, that NBC Washington itself posted a guide advocating for the opposite approach in December.

NBC’s official approach to the correct pronunciation of PyeongChang: fuck it. https://t.co/pVhrO4Je3V

— Angry Asian Man (@angryasianman) February 15, 2018

This is not a case of regional accents, or trying to decide whether to use local or Anglicized names for a city (like Torino vs. Turin). Pyeongchang is pronounced just one way by native speakers of Korean.

The argument that in American English, “Chang” rhymes with “bang” or “tang” doesn’t hold water either. “Nobody really cares how Americans pronounce things when they design romanization systems—why should they?” Ross King, professor of Korean and head of the Department of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia, wrote in an email. “These are designed for the whole world to use, and it is quite normal for vowels in such systems to follow Italian/Finnish.”

This stings bc so many Asian immigrants are forced to change their names to “easier” to pronounce, anglo sounding ones to survive in the U.S. least you can do is respect the host country. https://t.co/CdidhKfiuz

— Kimberly Yam (@kimmythepooh) February 15, 2018

There’s nothing ruder, really, than refusing to call someone, or somewhere, what they prefer to be called. It’s especially weird to go to the trouble of asking, and then argue with the answer. And it’s not NBC’s first problem with this.

In Rio during the 2016 summer Olympics, gymnastics announcer Al Trautwig could not let it go that Simone Biles, arguably the biggest star of those games, considers her adoptive parents to be her parents. He felt the need not only to make sure viewers knew that Biles “was raised by her grandfather and his wife and she calls them mom and dad,” but also tweeted that they were definitely not her parents. He deleted the tweet and apologized, but telling people that the way they think of their families is incorrect—or revising the pronunciation of proper names—is the worst kind of arrogance.

Here’s one more demonstration of the correct pronunciation of Pyeongchang (with graphics, singing, and dancing):