The language of pictures

A German saying goes: A picture says more than a thousand words. That means that pictures are often understood faster than speech. Pictures can also convey emotions better. Because of this, advertising uses a lot of pictures. Pictures function differently than speech. They show us several things simultaneously and in their totality. That means that the whole image together has a certain effect. With speech, considerably more words are needed. But images and speech go together. We need speech in order to describe a picture. By the same token, many texts are first understood through images. The relationship between images and speech is being studied by linguists. It also raises the question whether pictures are a language in their own right.

If something is only filmed, we can look at the images. But the message of the film isn't concrete. If an image is meant to function as speech, it must be concrete. The less it shows, the clearer its message. Pictograms are a good example of this. Pictograms are simple and clear pictorial symbols. They replace verbal language, and as such are a form of visual communication. Everyone knows the pictogram for "no smoking for example." It shows a cigarette with a line through it. Images are becoming even more important due to globalization. But you also have to study the language of images. It is not understandable worldwide, even though many think so. Because our culture influences our understanding of images. What we see is dependent on many different factors. So some people don't see cigarettes, but only dark lines.