A pictograph, also called pictogram or pictogramme is an ideogram
An ideogram or ideograph is a graphic symbol that represents an idea or concept. Some ideograms are comprehensible only by familiarity with prior convention; others convey their meaning through pictorial resemblance to a physical object, and thus may also be referred to as pictograms.Examples of...

 that conveys its meaning through its pictorial resemblance to a physical object. Pictographs are often used in writing and graphic systems in which the characters are to considerable extent pictorial in appearance.

Pictography is a form of writing
Writing is the representation of language in a textual medium through the use of a set of signs or symbols . It is distinguished from illustration, such as cave drawing and painting, and non-symbolic preservation of language via non-textual media, such as magnetic tape audio.Writing most likely...

 which uses representational, pictorial drawing
Drawing is a form of visual art that makes use of any number of drawing instruments to mark a two-dimensional medium. Common instruments include graphite pencils, pen and ink, inked brushes, wax color pencils, crayons, charcoal, chalk, pastels, markers, styluses, and various metals .An artist who...

s. It is a basis of cuneiform
Cuneiform can refer to:*Cuneiform script, an ancient writing system originating in Mesopotamia in the 4th millennium BC*Cuneiform , three bones in the human foot*Cuneiform Records, a music record label...

 and, to some extent, hieroglyphic writing
Hieroglyph or hieroglyphics may refer to:*Anatolian hieroglyphs*Chinese character*Cretan hieroglyphs*Cursive hieroglyphs*Dongba script*Egyptian hieroglyphs*Hieroglyphic Luwian*Mayan hieroglyphs...

, which uses drawings also as phonetic letters or determinative
A determinative, also known as a taxogram or semagram, is an ideogram used to mark semantic categories of words in logographic scripts which helps to disambiguate interpretation. They have no direct counterpart in spoken language, though they may derive historically from glyphs for real words, and...



Early written symbols were based on pictographs (pictures which resemble what they signify) and ideograms (symbols which represent ideas). Ancient Chinese, Sumerian, and Egyptian civilizations began to use such symbols over 5000 years ago
4th millennium BC
The 4th millennium BC saw major changes in human culture. It marked the beginning of the Bronze Age and of writing.The city states of Sumer and the kingdom of Egypt were established and grew to prominence. Agriculture spread widely across Eurasia...

, developing them into logographic writing systems
A logogram, or logograph, is a grapheme which represents a word or a morpheme . This stands in contrast to phonograms, which represent phonemes or combinations of phonemes, and determinatives, which mark semantic categories.Logograms are often commonly known also as "ideograms"...

 around the third millennium BCE
3rd millennium BC
The 3rd millennium BC spans the Early to Middle Bronze Age.It represents a period of time in which imperialism, or the desire to conquer, grew to prominence, in the city states of the Middle East, but also throughout Eurasia, with Indo-European expansion to Anatolia, Europe and Central Asia. The...

. Pictographs are still in use as the main medium of written communication in some non-literate cultures in Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

, The Americas
The Americas, or America , are lands in the Western hemisphere, also known as the New World. In English, the plural form the Americas is often used to refer to the landmasses of North America and South America with their associated islands and regions, while the singular form America is primarily...

, and Oceania
Oceania is a region centered on the islands of the tropical Pacific Ocean. Conceptions of what constitutes Oceania range from the coral atolls and volcanic islands of the South Pacific to the entire insular region between Asia and the Americas, including Australasia and the Malay Archipelago...

. Pictographs are often used as simple, pictorial, representational symbols by most contemporary cultures.
Pictographs can often transcend languages in that they can communicate to speakers of a number of tongues and language families equally effectively, even if the languages and cultures are completely different. This is why road signs and similar pictographic material are often applied as global standards expected to be understood by nearly all.

Pictographs can also take the form of diagrams to represent statistical data by pictorial forms, and can be varied in color, size, or number to indicate change.

Pictographs can be considered an art form, and are designated as such in Pre-Columbian art
Pre-Columbian art
Pre-Columbian art is the visual arts of indigenous peoples of the Caribbean, North, Central, and South Americas until the late 15th and early 16th centuries, and the time period marked by Christopher Columbus' arrival in the Americas....

, Native American art
Native American art
Visual arts by indigenous peoples of the Americas encompasses the visual artistic traditions of the indigenous peoples of the Americas from ancient times to the present...

, and Painting in the Americas before Colonization
Painting in the Americas before Colonization
Painting in the Americas before colonization is the Precolumbian painting traditions of the Americas. Painting was a relatively widespread, popular and diverse means of communication and expression for both religious and utilitarian purpose throughout the regions of the Western Hemisphere...

. One example of many is the Rock art of the Chumash people
Rock art of the Chumash people
Chumash rock art is a genre of paintings on caves, mountains, cliffs, or other living rock surfaces, created by the Chumash people of southern California. Pictographs and petroglyphs are common through interior California, the rock painting tradition thrived until the 19th century...

, part of the Native American history of California.
In 2011, UNESCO World Heritage adds to its list a new site "Petroglyphs Complexes of the Mongolian Altai, Mongolia" to celebrate the importance of the pictograms engraved in rocks.

Some scientists in the field of neuropsychiatry and neuropsychology, such as Prof. Dr. Mario Christian Meyer
Mario Christian Meyer
Mario Christian Meyer is a Swiss-Brazilian doctor and advocate for the sustainable development of the Amazonia and preservation of its indigenous cultural heritage.-Early life:Meyer was born on 4 June 1953 in Salta, Argentina...

, are studying the symbolic meaning of indigenous pictograms and petroglyphs, aiming to create new ways of communication between native people and modern scientists to safeguard and valorize their cultural diversity.

Modern use

Pictographs remain in common use today, serving as pictorial, representational signs
Signs is the plural of sign. See sign .Signs may also refer to:*Signs , a 2002 film by M. Night Shyamalan*Signs , a journal of women's studies...

, instructions, or statistical diagrams. Because of their graphical nature and fairly realistic style, they are widely used to indicate public toilets, or places such as airports and train stations.

A standard set of pictographs was defined in the international standard
International standard
International standards are standards developed by international standards organizations. International standards are available for consideration and use, worldwide...

 ISO 7001
ISO 7001
ISO 7001 is a standard published by the International Organization for Standardization that defines a set of pictograms and symbols for public information...

: Public Information Symbols
. Another common set of pictographs are the laundry symbols
Laundry symbols
A laundry symbol, also called a care symbol, is a pictogram which represents a method of washing, for example drying, dry-cleaning and ironing clothing. Such symbols are written on labels, known as care labels, attached to clothing to indicate how a particular item should best be cleaned. There are...

 used on clothing tags and chemical hazard labels.

Pictographic writing as a modernist poetic technique is credited to Ezra Pound
Ezra Pound
Ezra Weston Loomis Pound was an American expatriate poet and critic and a major figure in the early modernist movement in poetry...

, though French surrealists
Surrealism is a cultural movement that began in the early 1920s, and is best known for the visual artworks and writings of the group members....

 accurately credit the Pacific Northwest
Pacific Northwest
The Pacific Northwest is a region in northwestern North America, bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west and, loosely, by the Rocky Mountains on the east. Definitions of the region vary and there is no commonly agreed upon boundary, even among Pacific Northwesterners. A common concept of the...

 American Indians
Native Americans in the United States
Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, parts of Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as...

 of Alaska
Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait...

 who introduced writing, via totem pole
Totem pole
Totem poles are monumental sculptures carved from large trees, mostly Western Red Cedar, by cultures of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America...

s, to North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...


Contemporary artist Xu Bing
Xu Bing
Xu Bing is a Chinese-born artist, resident in the United States since 1990. He currently resides in Beijing.-Biography:...

 created Book from the Ground, a universal language made up of pictograms collected from around the world. A Book from the Ground chat program has been exhibited in museums and galleries internationally.

See also

  • Asemic writing
    Asemic writing
    Asemic writing is a wordless open semantic form of writing. The word asemic means "having no specific semantic content". With the nonspecificity of asemic writing there comes a vacuum of meaning which is left for the reader to fill in and interpret. All of this is similar to the way one would...

  • Chinese character
    Chinese character
    Chinese characters are logograms used in the writing of Chinese and Japanese , less frequently Korean , formerly Vietnamese , or other languages...

  • Chumash Rock Art
    Rock art of the Chumash people
    Chumash rock art is a genre of paintings on caves, mountains, cliffs, or other living rock surfaces, created by the Chumash people of southern California. Pictographs and petroglyphs are common through interior California, the rock painting tradition thrived until the 19th century...

  • Crop art
    Crop art
    Crop art falls into several different categories, all of which employ land and/or what grows from it to create images.-Seed art:One version of Crop art is also called Seed art, a visual art created in mosaic-style. Mosaic is an ancient technique of making designs, often from bits of tile or...

  • DOT pictograms
    DOT pictograms
    The DOT pictograms are a set of fifty pictograms used to convey information useful to travelers without using words. Such images are useful in airports, train stations, hotels, and other public places for foreign tourists, as well as being easier to identify than strings of text. Among these...

  • Emoticon
    An emoticon is a facial expression pictorially represented by punctuation and letters, usually to express a writer’s mood. Emoticons are often used to alert a responder to the tenor or temper of a statement, and can change and improve interpretation of plain text. The word is a portmanteau word...

  • Icon (computing)
    Icon (computing)
    A computer icon is a pictogram displayed on a computer screen and used to navigate a computer system or mobile device. The icon itself is a small picture or symbol serving as a quick, intuitive representation of a software tool, function or a data file accessible on the system. It functions as an...

  • iConji
    iConji is a free pictographic communication system based on an open, visual vocabulary of characters with built-in translations for most major languages....

     (social networking)
  • Ideogram
    An ideogram or ideograph is a graphic symbol that represents an idea or concept. Some ideograms are comprehensible only by familiarity with prior convention; others convey their meaning through pictorial resemblance to a physical object, and thus may also be referred to as pictograms.Examples of...

  • Pecked curvilinear nucleated
    Pecked curvilinear nucleated
    Pecked curvilinear nucleated, in archaeology, is a form of prehistoric rock carving. The term was originally proposed by Teresa Miller and Reed Haslam in 1976 to describe a widespread type of rock carving in western North America. The form is characterized by a circular or oval groove element,...

  • Petroforms
  • Petroglyph
    Petroglyphs are pictogram and logogram images created by removing part of a rock surface by incising, picking, carving, and abrading. Outside North America, scholars often use terms such as "carving", "engraving", or other descriptions of the technique to refer to such images...

  • Rebus
    A rebus is an allusional device that uses pictures to represent words or parts of words. It was a favourite form of heraldic expression used in the Middle Ages to denote surnames, for example in its basic form 3 salmon fish to denote the name "Salmon"...

  • Rock Art
    Rock art
    Rock art is a term used in archaeology for any human-made markings made on natural stone. They can be divided into:*Petroglyphs - carvings into stone surfaces*Pictographs - rock and cave paintings...

  • Writing system
    Writing system
    A writing system is a symbolic system used to represent elements or statements expressible in language.-General properties:Writing systems are distinguished from other possible symbolic communication systems in that the reader must usually understand something of the associated spoken language to...

  • Yakima Indian Painted Rocks
    Yakima Indian Painted Rocks
    Indian Painted Rocks is a tiny state park right outside Yakima, Washington at the intersection of Powerhouse and Ackely Roads...

  • Pictorial push pull signs for doors
    Pictorial push pull signs for doors
    Pictorial push pull signs for doors are intended to avoid confusion. In English the words PUSH and PULL are both four letters long and contain the same first two letters. For people in a hurry it is easy to confuse...

External links

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