The Linguistic Status of Isotype

Christopher Burke


It is ironic that Otto Neurath, one of those responsible for the ‘linguistic turn’ in philosophy of the twentieth century, should have been concerned during the last twenty years of his life with developing a ‘pictorial language’. By using simplified pictograms as components, the Wiener Methode der Bildstatistik (later called Isotype) bypassed verbal language to a great extent, creating the potential for universal understanding of biological, social and economic correlations. However, despite its consistency and rigour, Isotype was not a complete language, and Neurath knew that it never could be. This paper will examine the linguistic characteristics of Isotype and describe the deliberate resistance on the part of its creators to develop a full theory behind it.


20th century philosophy; history of philosophy; philosophy; Wittgenstein Ludwig; basic English; isotype; logical empiricism; Morris Charles; Carnap Rudolf; Neurath Otto; Neurath Paul; pictorial turn; picture language

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