Although some specialists hesitate to consider pictography as a true form of writing, pictograms are inseparable from its development, as well as its history. The Sumerian tablets made in Mesopotamia in the fourth millennium B.C. are thus usually deemed a pictographic form of writing. Sumerian pictograms were moved by economic and accountancy-related interests: early representations depicted goods and merchandises. Little by little, the association of two pictograms – a drawing of a bird and an egg, for instance – began to designate ideas as well (in the case of the bird and the egg, that of “fecundity”), which paved the way for ideograms. The great revolution in Sumerian writing thus occurred when pictograms and ideograms took on phonetic value: a drawing of an arrow stopped meaning an arrow in order to designate a syllabic sound that could be combined with other signs to build words. The transformation of the Sumerian pictographic writing into a truly phonographic system took place circa 3000 B.C., coinciding with the adoption of cuneiform graphism.
From what has been shown, pictography must not be seen as a rudimentary phase of writing. The idea that the iconicity of language – i.e., its figurative aspect – is a synonym of primitivism, and that the evolution of writing naturally moved from concrete towards abstract is actively contested in the present. Many north-American tribes used complex pictographic systems to communicate. Pictographic writing may coexist with phonetic systems, as in Chinese writing and some pre-Colombian languages.