AskDefine | Define pictograph

Dictionary Definition

pictograph n : a graphic character used in picture writing

User Contributed Dictionary



pictograph (plural: pictographs)
  1. a picture that represents a word or an idea; a hieroglyph
  2. a graphic character
  3. a graph that represents numerical data using pictures.


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.
pictograph in Belarusian: Піктаграфічнае пісьмо
pictograph in Czech: Piktogram
pictograph in Danish: Piktogram
pictograph in German: Piktogramm
pictograph in Estonian: Piktogramm
pictograph in Spanish: Pictograma
pictograph in Esperanto: Piktogramo
pictograph in Persian: تصویرنگار
pictograph in French: Pictogramme
pictograph in Galician: Pictograma
pictograph in Korean: 픽토그램
pictograph in Italian: Pittografia
pictograph in Dutch: Pictogram
pictograph in Japanese: ピクトグラム
pictograph in Norwegian: Piktogram
pictograph in Polish: Piktogram
pictograph in Portuguese: Pictograma
pictograph in Romanian: Pictogramă
pictograph in Russian: Пиктограмма
pictograph in Simple English: Pictogram
pictograph in Slovak: Piktogram
pictograph in Slovenian: Piktogram
pictograph in Finnish: Kuvakirjoitus
pictograph in Swedish: Piktogram
pictograph in Turkish: Piktogram
pictograph in Chinese: 象形文字

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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