Pictographic Writing

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Pictographic Writing


(also picture writing, pictography), the representation of the content of a message by a picture or a sequence of pictures. Pictographic writing is not true writing, since it does not record speech itself but reflects speech content, usually mnemonically; the picture or set of images predetermine neither the words in which the message is to be stated nor the language of the message. Metaphorical or conventional symbolism is possible in pictographic writing. For example, among North American Indians, a smoking pipe symbolized peace, and in contemporary pictographic writing two joined hearts mean “love” and a square in a circle indicates “no through traffic.”

Pictographic writing is known from the Neolithic period and is best attested to among the tribes of North America, Melanesia, Africa, and the northeastern USSR (Koryak, Yukaghir). Pictographic writing must not be confused with conventional mnemonic and counting signs of a nonpictorial nature (notched sticks, incisions, knotted cords) and markings indicating clan or personal ownership. Pictographic writing is used today as a secondary means of communication, for example, on traffic signs and signboards.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
On the sculptured stones in the Copan valley there are characters which seem to resemble very ancient writing, but this pictographic writing is largely untranslatable.
Later on, these primitive civilizations reached their peak in the Indus valley cities, with Harappa being the most prominent, which already had mastered town planning and pictographic writing.
A frequently employed stylistic device, it has perhaps been most aptly defined in Anzaldua's Borderlands as a bilingual patois, intermingling "the alphabetic writing of the metropolitan center and the pictographic writing of pre-Columbian civilizations" (2).
During the colonial period, British observers noted the use of a secret pictographic writing system widely used among Igbo and many other African tribes.
Governments in countries colonised by China were forced to adopt this pictographic writing system in order to receive political regulations, but the pronunciation of the characters was not controlled.
A more recent sort of pictographic writing in terms of Indigenous cultures can be found in the Plains ledger books.
Of the world beyond these border tribes, the early Chinese said nothing, though some features of early Chinese civilization--bronze working almost certainly, pictographic writing quite possibly--had been transmitted somehow from West Asia.
The earliest evidence of Chinese pictographic writing is found on these divinatory shells.
Until recently, the reigning hypothesis about the development of cuneiform writing in Mesopotamia was that a relatively concrete pictographic writing had evolved first and gradually been modified into the more abstract cuneiform writing as evidenced by the many clay tablets that have been discovered by archeological researchers.
It would also cut off the Chinese in the democratic region, from their traditional literature and knowledge of the past expressed in their ideographic and pictographic writing.