Pictographic or iconic

According to Barry B. Powell, the word “pictogram” is imprecise. It seems to suggest that any sign that looks like something, communicates its message through this resemblance. On top of that, the usage of the word “pictogram” seems to connect to the assumption that there is a simple development from drawing pictures, to using signs that look like something in writing.

First of all, signs that look like objects in the real world don’t point to those objects directly. Instead, they point to words. Secondly, those signs can have other functions. For example, they can be used to categorize words. It that case they point neither to the object depicted, nor to a word; instead they indicate that the word they accompany belongs into a certain category. (A sign that is a depiction of a bird may indicate that the word it has been attached to may be a bird name.) Signs that seem to look like something can also be used phonetically, ignoring any related meaning.

Powell thinks that the word we should use instead, would be the term “iconic”.

When wishing to speak of the representational aspects of some writings, we can call these aspects “iconic”.

Judging by the index of his book, Qiú doesn’t use “pictogram” or “icon.” He writes “pictographic symbols,” “pictograph,” “pictorial graph,” what seems to be the same concept as “pictogram.”