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Drawn words: Pictographs in the Chinese language and visual culture

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This essay considers the presence of pictograms – drawings of things functioning as words – within the Chinese written language and beyond that, Chinese visual culture. It argues that a simplified understanding of the Chinese language has generally existed in the West and attempts instead to present a more accurate picture of Chinese written characters as comprised of picto- and ideo-graphic elements alongside phonetic ones. The origins of Chinese pictographs in drawn images are noted, examples of pictographs in Chinese visual culture are discussed, and the challenge that pictography presents to western models of the arbitrary linguistic sign is considered.
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Keywords: Chinese language; Chinese visual culture; arbitrary sign; ideograph; pictograph; word-image

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Sunderland

Publication date: November 1, 2018

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  • Drawing: Research, Theory, Practice promotes and disseminates drawing research with a focus on contemporary practice and its theoretical context. This journal seeks to reestablish the materiality of drawing as a medium at a time when virtual, on-line, electronic media dominates visuality and communication.

    This peer-reviewed publication represents drawing as a significant discipline in its own right and in a diversity of forms: as an experimental practice, as research, as representation and/or documentation, as historical and/or theoretical exploration, as process or as performance. It explores the drawing discipline across fine art, science and engineering, media and communication, psychology, architecture, design, science and technology, textiles, fashion, social and cultural practices.

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