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Pictograph: Definition, Examples & Images

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  • 0:00 Definition and…
  • 1:39 Pictographs in History
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Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

Used widely in the present day to communicate rules and warnings on the road and elsewhere, pictographs were humankind's earliest form of written language. Look at some examples of pictographs, and then test your knowledge with a quiz.

Definition and Examples of Pictographs

We see signs every time we step out into the world. Stop signs, construction signs, deer crossing signs, signs are seemingly everywhere. Some tell us what to do using language, such as 'STOP,' or 'Construction Ahead.' Others, like deer crossing signs, simply give a symbol of a deer and through context, when we are driving in the country, we know what the symbol is implying. What most drivers may not know is that using pictures to confer meaning is one of the oldest forms of written language humankind has ever used. Its continued use on road signs today is indicative of just how useful and important pictographs can be.

Pictographs are an early form of written language that conveys meaning through representing something in the physical world; essentially, a picture! Here are some modern examples of pictographs and their attendant explanations; see if you can guess the meaning before reading the explanation!

Tortoise Crossing

What was your first thought? Turtle crossing, right? Without even seeing a road, you probably realized that the black silhouette of the turtle on a yellow field is the internationally accepted pictograph symbolizing a turtle crossing.

No Diving

This pictograph is even more detailed than the last, and conveys even more meaning. Simultaneously, the image says that no diving is allowed while also giving an explanation: diving into the shallow water could lead to head or spinal cord injury.

Now that we understand pictographs and their everyday uses, let's take a look at some pictographs in history.

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