Dunkin’ pictograms

Speaking of pictographic writing systems that will never be universal, Fabricari sends along this logo from Dunkin’ Donuts:

I’ve been seeing that logo for over a year now, and never quite got that the images were supposed to be a pictographic sentence until a few weeks ago! I had just thought that it was a bunch of pretty pictures. Of course, given that I rarely if ever go to Dunkin’ Donuts, I never really put in the effort to try and decode it.

Though, while we’re here, I might as well use it as an example as to why pictographs fail as universal systems. Outright, as I mentioned in my last post, the grammar here completely mimics that of English. Of course, that was the intent in this case since its a slogan, which is why there is four units for four words. But, notice also that this conversion makes a very important decision: it chooses to transcribe “America runs on DD” as a verbal–>visual mapping, rather than siphoning the concept behind the idea into the visual modality to then adapt to its own traits. Moving on…

Let’s start with nouns. First off, the DD is only understandable if you know the association to the company. The map of America could be read as “map” or some such, but is even more interesting since it is a metonymy. It uses “America” to mean “the people in America.”

The verb “run” nicely shows how you can’t visually show an action without also showing an object. It’s tough to show “run” without also showing the “runner.” Verbal grammar (by virtue of its symbolic nature) likes to divide these pieces into [ACTOR]-[ACTION]. In visual grammar this division doesn’t work as well (being iconic, not symbolic), instead becoming [ACTOR:state1]-[ACTOR:state2], where “state2” shows the fruition of the action.

Finally, the preposition “on” isn’t visually converted at all. I find this to be particularly telling, since it immediately shows the English context. I imagine also that the makers of the logo struggled with it, since this usage of “on” is not the spatial kind (“on top of”) but is tied to the verb.

In fact, the interpretation of “run” as an action here (like “run down the street”) is wholly off, since they don’t mean that Americans “use their legs to run on top of Dunkin’ Donuts.” Rather, they are using a construction “run on” (arguably not two units) that means roughly “to be powered by.” The “person running” image then becomes a “double rebus” –> first mapping the sound pattern to the image, then the image’s literal meaning to it’s “metaphorical” meaning.

To come back around to my initial statement about mimicing English grammar, this actually can’t even do that since the slogan doesn’t use concrete elements. A literal reading of this ends up being totally bizarre (bracketed by panel, italics adding clarifying info):

[The country of AMERICA][uses its legs to RUN][ON top of][DUNKIN’ DONUTS]

SO… this example only goes to reinforce how hard it is to “accurately” map verbal expressions to visual signs — both individual signs and grammatical sequences — especially when it involves metonymic and metaphorical expressions (add those semantic aspects to the list then). While English speakers might be able to figure this one out, can anyone possibly imagine this working on a global scale?


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