Tag Archives: symbol

Ideograms

This ideogram says “Turn right!”

ideo·​gram
1 : a picture or symbol used in a system of writing to represent a thing or an idea but not a particular word or phrase for it
especially : one that represents not the object pictured but some thing or idea that the object pictured is supposed to suggest
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ideogram

Numbers are ideograms. They represent the idea of quantity or amount. Mathematical symbols are ideograms, too—‘+’ means added to, ‘-’ means subtracted from. Those are abstract ideas. The plus or minus sign doesn’t represent anything you can see or touch.

A red circle with a bar through it means ‘no’ or ‘not allowed.’ That’s an idea. If you put the red circle and bar across a picture of a cigarette or dog or a skateboard, you know those things aren’t allowed. The cigarette or dog or skateboard are pictograms. They represent something you can see or touch. The red circle and bar turn them into ideograms: the idea of something being forbidden.

I put these signs up in my house but it’s like the dogs don’t even see them

Skateboarding dog doesn’t care about ideograms

Can you think of any ideograms? You see them everywhere. They’re especially useful to communicate without needing to speak a particular language. Anyone at an international airport can find someplace to eat, a gender-appropriate potty, the baggage claim or a taxi thanks to pictograms and ideograms. Ideograms on the road tell a driver when to slow down, merge with other traffic, or stop. Do you see any ideograms at home? At school? On your computer?

https://penandthepad.com/types-imagery-poetry-19888.html (scroll down)

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Writing gets complicated

The Sumerians used a stylus to make symbols in soft clay. The symbols represented things they wanted to count, like stuff they were buying or selling. Think about sheaves of barley; poultry or livestock; pots of olive oil; baskets of dried fish. It was an accounting system for business. There were symbols for counting—numbers—and symbols to represent things—pictograms.

Over a long period of time, though, these symbols developed into a writing system that could record things people say. New meanings were introduced. Sometimes a symbol represented an idea—that’s called an ideogram. For instance, a symbol that looks like the sun may represent the sun (pictogram), or maybe a day or noon or the passage of time (ideogram). A foot symbol might mean a foot (pictogram), or walking or running or a distance (ideogram).

This writing system became pretty complicated. There were thousands of these symbols and more than one meaning for a lot of them. The ordinary shmoes who had used symbols to count their goods could no longer read or write in this system. You had to be trained to do it. You had to be a scribe.

https://saffroninteractive.com/a-brief-history-of-pictograms-and-ideograms/
https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-an-ideogram-1691050
https://www.historyofvisualcommunication.com/02-ideograms

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Counting your chickens before numbers

6000-2200 bc. Eventually people figured out it was a lot easier to raise livestock—animals that provide food—than chasing after them with bows and arrows. Human beings domesticated certain kinds of animals, like poultry (chickens), cattle, sheep and goats.

If you wanted to tell somebody how many chickens you owned, you couldn’t, because there weren’t any symbols for numbers.

My version of a clay chicken token.

It was pretty important to know how many chickens—or goats, or sheep—you owned. Sometimes people would keep a bag of pebbles. Each pebble represented a chicken or a goat. Eventually someone had the idea to make little clay chickens and goats. At the end of every day, the animals went back into their pens. As each chicken entered the coop, you could keep track by putting a clay chicken in your bag for every real chicken. As each goat entered the pen, you put a clay goat in your bag.

You get what’s happening here? We switched from making images of animals as grand wall paintings to inventing a token or symbol (a clay chicken) that represents a unit (a real chicken). That’s a big deal. These symbols were the first step toward a written language.

“What do you mean by that, Manders? Stop spewing gibberish!” Okay, okay. To make my point more clearly: look at the cartoons in this post. A cartoon will only represent what it was drawn to represent. Now look at the letters in this text. They’re symbols. The letters can be rearranged to make different words, to say anything you like. It will take a loooooong time to get from chicken tokens to an alphabet, but we’re on our way.

https://phys.org/news/2020-06-domesticated-chicken.html
https://theconversation.com/when-did-humans-first-learn-to-count-97511

Early Counting Systems


https://mathtimeline.weebly.com/early-human-counting-tools.html
View at Medium.com
https://sites.utexas.edu/dsb/tokens/tokens/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulla_(seal)

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.