The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Mapping and spatial analysis of multiethnic toponyms in Yunnan, China

TitleMapping and spatial analysis of multiethnic toponyms in Yunnan, China
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsWang F, Zhang L, Zhang G, Zhang H
JournalCartography and Geographic Information Science
Start Page86
Date Published08/2013
KeywordsChina, historical GIS, multiethnic toponym, spatial analysis, Yunnan

Yunnan has the largest number of ethnic groups in China, and its rich set of multiethnic toponyms (place names) has earned itself a nickname of “museum of toponyms”. The objectives of this study are to (1) construct a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) database of toponyms in Yunnan from a comprehensive toponymical dictionary series of China, and identify their ethnic roots; (2) enhance the mapping of their spatial patterns and detect possible clusters of ethnic toponyms by spatial analysis methods; (3) analyze the association of multiethnic toponyms with geographic factors by statistical methods; and (4) examine the historical evolution of toponyms. The results show that the highest concentrations of Zang–Mian (Tibeto–Burman) toponyms are in the northwestern and the northeastern mountainous areas, and Zhuang–Dong (Kam–Tai) toponyms cluster in the southwest and the southeast lowlands. In comparison to Han (Chinese majority) toponyms, the Zhuang–Dong toponyms also tend to be closer to rivers and in more remote areas (i.e., farther from major transportation routes and major cities). The centrographic method helps reveal the historical trend of gradual expansion of Han settlement in Yunnan as recorded in the time stamp of toponyms. The paper demonstrates the value of GIS-based analytical methods in toponymical studies.