[id-ee-uh-gram, ahy-dee-]

An ideogram or ideograph (from Greek ἰδέα idea "idea" + γράφω grafo "to write") is a graphic 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, or a strictly representational picture of a subject as may be done in illustration or photography.

Examples of ideograms include wayfinding signs, such as in airports and other environments where many people may not be familiar with the language of the place they are in, as well as Arabic numerals and mathematical notation, which are used worldwide regardless of how they are pronounced in different languages.

The term "ideogram" is commonly, albeit incorrectly, used to describe logographic writing systems such as Egyptian hieroglyphs and Chinese characters. Despite this label, graphemes in logographic systems represent specific words or morphemes in the target language, rather than pure ideas.

Young people (Y-generation) are using more and more emoticons in instant messaging to represent concepts and sometimes phonemes.

Terminological objections

There is a common misconception that Chinese characters exist separately from spoken language, representing pure ideas which can be determined from their shape. This has led to many attempts to abandon the name "ideogram" in favour of a term that more accurately represents their morphemic (and often phonetic) nature: that is, that they represent words and syllables, not ideas. One alternative is logogram, from the Greek roots logos ("word") and grapho ("to write"). Others include Sinogram, emphasising the Chinese origin of the characters, and Han character, a literal translation of the native term. These terms have gained some currency among scholars, but have failed to spread into common usage. The native terms (Chinese hanzi, Japanese kanji) are also fairly widespread in the contexts of the individual languages, but they are not generally considered suitable for discussion of the script as a whole.

True ideographic systems:

See also


  • DeFrancis, John. 1990. The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-1068-6
  • Hannas, William. C. 1997. Asia's Orthographic Dilemma. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-1892-X (paperback); ISBN 0-8248-1842-3 (hardcover)
  • Unger, J. Marshall. 2003. Ideogram: Chinese Characters and the Myth of Disembodied Meaning. ISBN 0-8248-2760-0 (trade paperback), ISBN 0-8248-2656-6 (hardcover)

External links

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