Dutch Language Blog

Dutch Language Book Review: Taal Is Zeg Maar Echt Mijn Ding Posted by on Jun 16, 2010 in Dutch Language

Taal Is Zeg Maar Echt Mijn Ding, door Paulien Cornelisse

Paulien Cornelisse is a Dutch cabaret comedienne and author who writes and performs about the modern use of the Dutch language.  She wrote this absolutely hilarious book, “Taal is Zeg Maar Echt Mijn Ding,” and I just have to tell you all about it.

The book is about all the modern ways the Dutch language is used, but it goes much further than that.  It’s  a cultural insight into the Dutch psyche via the language.  And it’s dreadfully funny.  Unlike other books I’ve read that try to poke fun at Dutch culture and manage only to come across as insulting, Paulien Cornelisse manages to be both insulting and funny at the same time.  Actually, it’s not really insulting, it’s poking fun, during which she also pokes fun at herself.

She begins by explaining her theory about how language originally developed to clarify life.  We no longer had to point and grunt and make crazy hand motions, but we could directly state what we wanted.  The point of her book is that language often does exactly the opposite: it blurs the lines between what we really mean, what we really want, what we want the other person to think we mean, what we actually say, and what it means about us if we say something in a particular way.  And she does this all very artfully, weaving in small cultural jokes that I will openly admit I didn’t always get without first consulting a Dutch person.  But after my Dutch-person consultation, I would usually laugh hysterically.

Sometimes the book served to explain language “blips” that I never quite understood. For example, how some people seem to use the word “leuk” to describe absolutely everything from their recent trip to the park, to their girlfriend to their favorite movie.  Other times the book poked some good old fashioned fun at some stereotypical Dutch types of people, and the sort of language they use.  But don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t just poke fun at Dutch culture.  There is a lot in there that is universal to human nature to laugh about.  At some point I found the perfect example of something I do, but I prefer not to share what that is here….

Pauline Cornelisse is also a regular contributor to the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, where she writes funny pieces that touch on various aspects of Dutch language and culture.  Her website, http://www.pauliencornelisse.nl/, also contains an archive of her work, where you will find lots of short funny pieces to keep you amused for hours.

In the video below, Pauline is doing a short piece on Michael Jackson, where she analyzes some of the noises and expressions he uses.  It’s a little hard to pick up on in the beginning, but once it gets going it’s wildly amusing.

If you liked this book review, you might also be interested in my review of A Short History Of Amsterdam, by Geert Mak.

Do you like Dutch cabaret? Is there an author you’re dying to tell us about?  Feel free to leave us a message in the comments section below!

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  1. Jeanne Kasten:

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