›› 2014, Vol. 24 ›› Issue (3): 560-576.doi: 10.1007/s11442-014-1106-2

• Review Articles • Previous Articles    

A new geographical language:A perspective of GIS

HU Zui1,2,3, TANG Guoan1, LU Guonian1   

  1. 1. Key Laboratory of Virtual Geographic Environment of Ministry of Education, Nanjing 210046, China;
    2. Department of Resources &|Environment and Tourism Management, Hengyang 421008, Hunan, China;
    3. Engineering Technical Laboratory of Digital Protection of Traditional Village of Hunan Province, Hengyang 421008, Hunan, China
  • Received:2013-07-08 Revised:2013-08-20 Online:2014-06-15 Published:2014-03-28
  • Contact: Tang Guoan (1961-), PhD and Professor, specialized in GIS and digital terrain analysis. E-mail: tangguoan@njnu.edu.cn E-mail:tangguoan@njnu.edu.cn
  • About author:Hu Zui (1977-), PhD Candidate, specialized in GIS and spatial analysis. E-mail: fuyanghuzui@163.com
  • Supported by:

    National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41201398, No.40930531; Opening Foundation of State Key Laboratory of Resources and Environment Information System of China, No.2010KF0002SA; Key Constructive Disciplines Projects of Human Geography in Hunan Province


Language plays a vital role in the communication, sharing and transmission of information among human beings. Geographical languages are essential for understanding, investigating, representing and propagating geo-spatial information. Geographical languages have developed and evolved gradually with improvements in science, technology and cognitive levels. Concerning the theoretical progress from geographical information ontology, epistemology and linguistic theory, this paper firstly puts forward the concept of a GIS language and discusses its basic characteristics according to changes in the structures, functions and characteristics of geographical languages. This GIS language can be regarded as a system of synthetic digital symbols. It is a comprehensive representation of geographical objects, phenomena and their spatial distributions and dynamic processes. This representation helps us generate a universal perception of geographical space using geographical scenarios or symbols with geometry, statuses, processes, spatio-temporal relationships, semantics and attributes. Furthermore, this paper states that the GIS language represents a new generation of geographical language due to its intrinsic characteristics, structures, functions and systematic content. Based on the aforementioned theoretical foundation, this paper illustrates the pivotal status and contributions of the GIS language from the perspective of geographical researchers. The language of GIS is a new geographical language designed for the current era, with features including spatio-temporal multi-dimension representation, interactive visualization, virtual geographical scenarios, multi-sensor perception and expedient broadcasting via the web. The GIS language is the highest-level geographical language developed to date, integrating semantic definitions, feature extraction, geographical dynamic representation and spatio-temporal factors and unifying the computation of geographical phenomena and objects. The GIS language possesses five important characteristics: abstraction, systematicness, strictness, precision and hierarchy. In summary, the GIS language provides a new means for people to recognize, understand and simulate entire geo-environments. Therefore, exploration of the GIS language’s functions in contemporary geographical developments is becoming increasingly important. Similarly, construction of the conceptual model and scientific systems of the GIS language will promote the development of the disciplines of geography and geographical information sciences. Therefore, this paper investigates the prospects of the GIS language from the perspectives of digital technology, geographical norms, geographical modeling and the disciplinary development of geography.

Key words: language, conceptual model, GIS, ontology