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Opinion Defying experts, NBC clings to its ‘PyeongChang’ pronunciation

Turn on NBC these days, and you’ll hear a lot of people pronouncing the host city of the 2018 Winter Olympics this way: “Pyeong-Chayng,” with the second syllable resembling the breakfast drink “Tang.” That very approach appears to prevail in the network’s coverage of action on the slopes, the skating venues and beyond, including the “Today” show.

When your company holds U.S. media rights to the Games, on-air pronunciations tend to get high-level attention. As reported by Ben Fischer of the New York Business Journal SportsBusiness Journal, NBC settled on its “twang” pronunciation as far back as November. “It’s cleaner,” said Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Broadcasting and Sports. At the very same time, it was messy: In December, an Olympic pronunciation guide popped up on the website of NBC’s Washington property, a station owned and operated by NBC Universal’s television subsidiary. Narrated by NBC Boston’s Young-Jin Kim, it favors a pronunciation at odds with the one deployed by many NBC folks these days. “Pyung-Chahng,” advises Kim, a Korean American journalist.

On Tuesday, the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) released its own guidance, which also clashes with pronunciations heard on NBC platforms these days. In a video presentation, CeFaan Kim, co-chair of the group’s MediaWatch, schools the “chayng” crowd. “We’ve been getting a lot of questions from American journalists about the correct pronunciation of the Olympic host city,” says Kim, who then recites a few iterations that make it clear that the second syllable is pronounced with the “ahh” sound, as when a doctor is examining a patient’s throat.

Here’s another primer that agrees with AAJA and the NBCWashington video:

“The Asian American Journalists Association urges broadcast and radio journalists to use the accurate pronunciation of the host city for the 2018 Winter Olympic games,” reads the guidance.

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Another iteration of this pronunciation can be found on NPR. Isabel Lara, a spokeswoman for NPR, told the Erik Wemple Blog, “Our Olympics editor issued this guidance: Pyeongchang is pronounced: pyong-chong (NOT ‘chang’).”

An NBC Sports spokesperson said, “We heard a variety of ways to say PyeongChang during our preparation for the Games, and ultimately decided on the version in which the second syllable sounds like ‘twang.’ Although we have informed all of our commentators of this, with 2,400 hours of coverage and more than 80 on-air personalities, you may occasionally hear a slightly different pronunciation.”

Broadcasting from abroad can get complex. TV hosts don’t always adopt local pronunciations, lest they end up saying “Roma” instead of “Rome,” for example. In this case, though, it seems a bit bizarre that NBC sunk some consideration into “PyeongChang” and resolved to pronounce it the American way. Asked about how NBC talent is proceeding, AAJA’s Kim responded, “Unless you’re pronouncing it the way our guidance shows, it’s incorrect.”

Then there’s a lot of incorrect “PyeongChangs” out there, to judge from a quick-and-dirty run through non-NBC television coverage. Perhaps others are deferring to the executive decision of the Olympics’ banner U.S. network.