04 July 2011

A Guide to Constructed Languages: Writing Systems: Ideographic --> Pictographic

An ideographic script is a script in which graphemes (letters) or ideograms (graphic symbols) are used rather than a specific word in a language.

A pictographic script is a script where the graphemes are iconic pictures that have a resemblance to physical objects. Pictographic scripts are often what is seen on petroglyphs.

As said on Wikipedia, '[a]lthough a few pictographic or ideographic scripts exist today, there is no single way to read them, because there is no one-to-one correspondence between symbol and language. Hieroglyphs were commonly thought to be ideographic before they were translated, and to this day Chinese is often erroneously said to be ideographic. In some cases of ideographic scripts, only the author of a text can read it with any certainty, and it may be said that they are interpreted rather than read.'

For example, if I give you the image below, how would you take it?

Would you say it means
  • A fish?
  • Two fish?
  • Shooting fish?
  • Killing fish?
  • Hunting fish?
  • Going fishing?
  • A swimming fish?
  • An arrow[s] fish?
  • Right fish?
  • A name of someone?
  • Parallel fish?
My thought was 'going fishing', but you can see it can be interpreted in a number of different ways.

Note: This is not based on the rebus principle, as the rebus principle is based on the sounds of words, not the meaning of them. However, the rebus principle can be implemented for those words which can not necessarily be drawn.

For more on pictograms and how they're used even today, visit the Wikipedia article.


Draw out your own sentences using a pictographic system. How could you write an entire story? Even if you just write one sentence or phrase, why not ask somebody what they think it says?


If you found the images below as a cave painting or a secret message somewhere, what do you think the author could have meant? How many ways are there to interpret these images?

Take a picture.

Go outside.

Sleep through the morning.

For what the author was thinking of when she made them, right click on the image and hit 'properties'; it is under 'alternate text'.

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