AskDefine | Define pictographic

Dictionary Definition

pictographic adj : consisting of or characterized by the use of pictographs; "a pictographic script"; "pictographic stage in the development of writing"

Extensive Definition

A pictogram (also spelled pictogramme) or pictograph is a symbol representing a concept, object, activity, place or event by illustration. Pictography is a form of writing in which ideas are transmitted through drawing. It is a basis of cuneiform and, to some extent, hieroglyphic writing, which uses drawings also as phonetic letters or determinative rhymes.
Early written symbols were based on pictograms (pictures which resemble what they signify) and ideograms (symbols which represent ideas). They were used by the ancient Chinese culture since around 5000 BC and began to develop into logographic writing systems around 2000 BC. Pictograms are still in use as the main medium of written communication in some non-literate cultures in Africa, The Americas, and Oceania. Pictograms are often used as simple symbols by most contemporary cultures.

Modern use

Pictograms were extensively used on a London Suburban map of the London & North Eastern Railway map in 1937, and remain in common use today, serving as signs or instructions. 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. However, even these symbols are highly culture-specific. For example, in some cultures men commonly wear dress-like clothing, so even restroom signage is not universal.
A standard set of pictograms was defined in the international standard ISO 7001: Public Information Symbols. Another common set of pictograms are the laundry symbols used on clothing tags and chemical hazard labels. Pictography hinders search-engine capability, requiring symbol searching, while text-based writing also facilitates spoken words, even new words by use of pronunciation rules, and text enables sorting information alphabetically.
Pictographic writing as a modernist poetic technique is credited to Ezra Pound though French surrealists accurately credit the Pacific Northwest American Indians of Alaska who introduced writing, via totem poles, to North America (Reed 2003, p. xix).
Pictograms can also be seen in various crop circles.


  • Reed, Ishmael (2003). From Totems to Hip-Hop: A Multicultural Anthology of Poetry Across the Americas, 1900-2002, Ishmael Reed, ed. ISBN 1-56025-458-0.
pictographic in Belarusian: Піктаграфічнае пісьмо
pictographic in Czech: Piktogram
pictographic in Danish: Piktogram
pictographic in German: Piktogramm
pictographic in Estonian: Piktogramm
pictographic in Spanish: Pictograma
pictographic in Esperanto: Piktogramo
pictographic in Persian: تصویرنگار
pictographic in French: Pictogramme
pictographic in Galician: Pictograma
pictographic in Korean: 픽토그램
pictographic in Italian: Pittografia
pictographic in Dutch: Pictogram
pictographic in Japanese: ピクトグラム
pictographic in Norwegian: Piktogram
pictographic in Polish: Piktogram
pictographic in Portuguese: Pictograma
pictographic in Romanian: Pictogramă
pictographic in Russian: Пиктограмма
pictographic in Simple English: Pictogram
pictographic in Slovak: Piktogram
pictographic in Slovenian: Piktogram
pictographic in Finnish: Kuvakirjoitus
pictographic in Swedish: Piktogram
pictographic in Turkish: Piktogram
pictographic in Chinese: 象形文字

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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