What's the difference between pojagi and bojagi?


If you do a Google search on the term “pojagi”, you will quickly come across the term “bojagi”.  What’s the difference?

The answer to this is pretty simple — there is no difference.  In the Korean language, there is no distinction between the sound for “b” and “p”.  The words “pop” and “Bob” would sound the same.  One of the major cities in Korea is Busan, sometimes also called “Pusan”.

When you learn a language as a baby, all the sounds are wired into your brain.  By the time you are a teenager, the wiring is pretty much permanent.  That is why it’s more difficult to learn a language as an adult.  If the language you are learning has sounds that are not used in your native language, your brain will not be able to differentiate them.  You literally cannot hear the sound the way it is being said.

The most common example of this is the sounds “r” and “l”.  These are not distinguished in many Asian languages, so people who learned English as a second language as an adult sometimes struggle with those sounds.

This challenge also goes in the other direction.  When we lived in Korea, our downstairs neighbours had two children, and the daughter was about the age of my two-year-old daughter.  We would often see them on the elevator and greet them.  The little girl’s name had sounds that I could not say.  Every time she told me her name, I would try to say it, and I would mess it up.  The children would giggle and laugh at this adult who couldn’t even say a girl’s name.  My own children, who could hear all the sounds with their young ears, couldn’t understand it either.  They would say the name, and I tried in vain to repeat it.

Sometimes in my designs I Anglicize Korean words, or try to spell them the way I hear them.  If I say them incorrectly, the fault is mine, and I apologize.   My English ears don’t always get the nuances of the language.

No matter how you say pojagi, I think it’s beautiful. I’m very grateful for the chance I had to live in Korea and learn this art form, and I’m excited to share it with an English audience and beyond.

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