From Pictograms to Ideograms

Pictograms, Ideograms, and Alphabets

In semiotics – a study of signs and meanings – pictograms, ideograms, and symbols or letters are called signs. A sign is anything that stands for something else. Semiotics is a fascinating science, allowing one to probe into one’s ontology.

In this short article, I shall explain the key terms in the meaning-making system – they are pictograms, ideograms, characters, and alphabets.


A pictogram (pictograph) is simple a picture. It is defined as “a picture or symbol that represents a word or phrase.” Another term is an icon. For example, a computer icon is a small pictogram.

In other words, a pictogram or pictograph is a symbol representing a concept, object, activity, place or event by illustration. Pictography is a form of writing whereby ideas are transmitted through drawing.

An ideogram or ideograph is a combination of two words – ideas and grams, defined as “a written character symbolizing the idea of a thing without indicating the sounds used to say it.” Simple examples are numerals and Chinese characters.

An ideogram is a graphical symbol that represents an idea, rather than a group of letters arranged according to the phonemes of a spoken language, as is done in alphabetic languages.

Chinese characters are logo grams.

The term “ideogram” is commonly used to describe logographic writing systems such as Egyptian hieroglyphs and Chinese characters. However, symbols in logographic systems generally represent words or morphemes rather than pure ideas.

Another term we should look into is ‘logograph’. A logogram, or logograph, is a single grapheme which represents a word or a morpheme (a meaningful unit of language). This stands in contrast to other writing systems, such as alphabets, where each symbol (letter) primarily represents a sound or a combination of sounds. A Chinese character, for example, is a logogram

As we can see it is about levels of abstraction, from the concrete to the abstract. A picture is concrete, but a word is an idea (abstract).

a letter, number, or other mark or sign used in writing or printing, or the space one of these takes:
a string of characters (= a line of marks)
The address was written in Chinese/Japanese characters (= systems of writing).
The computer screen on this laptop is 66 characters (= spaces) wide.

Alphabet refers to “a set of letters or symbols in a fixed order, used to represent the basic sounds of a language; in particular, the set of letters from A to Z.” (Source:

How many letters are there in the alphabet? – › languages › how-many-letter…
The English Alphabet consists of 26 letters: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z.


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