How many continents are there?

Discussion in 'Cultural Discussions' started by rusita preciosa, Dec 6, 2009.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. rusita preciosa

    rusita preciosa Modus forendi

    USA (Φιλαδέλφεια)
    Russian (Moscow)
    Growing up in Russia, we learned that there are 6 continents: Africa, Eurasia, Australia, S.America, N.America and Antarctica.
    Europe and Asia are the same continent (because they are separated not by a body of water but by a mountain range), but they are considered two "parts of the world".

    It was somewhat shocking to me :) to learn that in the US children are tought that there are 7 continents (Europe and Asia are two separate continents).

    What do the kids learn in your country?
  2. RaLo18 Senior Member

    Israeli children learn about either 7 continents (Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, North America, Australia and Antarctica) or 5 (Europe, Asia, Africa, America and Australia). Having 6 continents is also possible (either merging the Americas or ignoring Antarctica), but it is less common as far as I'm aware.
    Europe and Asia are always separated.
  3. Macunaíma

    Macunaíma Senior Member

    Um ninho de mafagalfinhos
    português, Brasil
    We draw a distinction between the concepts of physical and political continents. In general, the idea of political continents tends to prevail in schools, so Europe and Asia are considered different continents, and so are South, Central and North Americas. Australia and New Zealand are considered part of a same continent, which we call Oceania. Greenland is considered part of North America, although it could be said to be a continent in its own right and it's politically linked to Europe, as a Dannish possession. Russia is divided between Asia and Europe by the Ural Mountains, but at the end of the day it is not considered Europe by the Brazilians.
  4. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    In Austria there are too 6 continents by tradition, but divided as follows:
    - Africa
    - Europe
    - Asia
    - Australia
    - America
    - Antarctica

    However, in secondary education (+12 years or so) children will learn that geologically Europe and Asia are one continent while both Americas are actually two continents.
    But it is still very common to refer to Europe as a separate continent, and Russia is thought of being divided between an European and an Asian part (as well as Turkey, with Istanbul being a divided city).

    In fact many people tend to forget their geographical education (where they learn about Eurasia) and refer only to Europe and Asia in their adult life (or even those who remember that Eurasia is one continent geologically still will continue to use Europe as a name for a continent).

    There is just too much cultural/political meaning linked with the name of Europe to change this kind of use in Western and Central Europe (also European Union, by existing alone, promotes this use and meaning).

    Also, the division of both Americas into two parts hasn't really caught on, not here in Austria at least (again, children learn this in secondary education - or at least they should -, but most still think of America as one continent).
  5. Momerath Senior Member

    British English
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2009
  6. rusita preciosa

    rusita preciosa Modus forendi

    USA (Φιλαδέλφεια)
    Russian (Moscow)
    That's interesting! So, Americas are considered 3 separate continents? Where are the borders of Central America then?
  7. Frank78

    Frank78 Senior Member

    In Germany students learn that there are 7 continents. North and South America, Africa, Asia, Australia, Antartica and Europe.

    If you use the geological model there are still 7 continents: Eurasia as one continent but India is a seperate one.
  8. Hakro

    Hakro Senior Member

    Helsinki, Finland
    Finnish - Finland
    In Finnish we are lucky to have two different words: manner or mantere, meaning about the same as continent, and Eurasia is one of the continents, one manner; then we can say maanosa (part of earth) that separates Europe and Asia to two different parts of the earth, divided by Ural mountains.

    The same in Americas: It's one continent but it can be divided into two or three different parts of earth (the Central America covering the land from Mexico to Panama plus Caribbean islands).
  9. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    I also learned there were 6, but they had Europe and Asia as two and didn't count Antarctica as one.

    I've seen models that even included "Oceania" as one - Meaning the Pacific ocean with its many little groups of islands. Makes sense too, culturally as well as geographically. Even thought there are a couple of km of water on top of most of it there must be a large piece of material there too that floats around on the hot fluid inside the Earth, just like Africa and Australia do. (Actually I saw this model painted on a school wall in the vicinity of Cala d'Or, Mallorca, SPAIN - so if it is something they invented themselves I hereby give them credit for it.)
  10. This what we were taught in US schools in the 60s and 70s. I don't know if it has changed since then.
  11. Aerio Member

    English, Polish
    I'm 22 and was taught there are seven continents: North America, South America, Australia (or Oceania), Europe, Africa, Asia, and Antarctica.
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2009
  12. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    "Central America" is a political division. Panama was in "South America" before independence and has been in "Central America" since indenpendence.
  13. Frank78

    Frank78 Senior Member

    As far as I know there is no continent "Oceania". Even New Zealand is NOT part of the Austrialian continent.

    Why should one call a group of island a continent? The word itself comes from "terra continens" and means "connected land". It shouldn´t be mixed up with "tectonic plates".
  14. xmarabout

    xmarabout Senior Member

    French - Belgium
    If you look at the Olympic flag, they consider there are only 5 continents represented by the five circles: Africa, Asia, America, Europe and Oceania... A long time ago, in geography lessons, I was taught there are 7 continents (from the previous list we splitted America in North and South and added Antartica).
    Now, about the splitting of Europe and Asia, I think we suffer from "europeanocentrism". Because Europe ruled the world for centuries and did not recognise the rest of the world as equals, the historian splitted Europe and Asia - with the Russian (and Turkish) exception. And America, populated by European people, inherited the same vision.
    Eurasia became more common the last years with some sciences like linguistic, anthropology, ... that showed the roots of everything...
  15. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
  16. Vanda

    Vanda Moderesa de Beagá

    Belo Horizonte, BRASIL
    Português/ Brasil
    That is what I learned in the 60s. Never thought about things being different from that so far. :eek:
  17. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    Why is Africa not the same continent as Eurasia? (The Suez canal should not count if the Panama canal doesn't.)
  18. MOC Senior Member

    According to the first poster (if that's the one you were referring to), both are considered, as there is Africa, Eurasia, South America and North America.
  19. Mahaodeh Senior Member

    Arabic and English
    This is the first time I hear that Europe and Asia are considered one continent! We learnt that there are seven in Iraq and up to my knowledege the case is the same in the rest of the region (at least the Arabic speaking countries). The continents are seven, they could be considered 6 politically if you exclude Antarctica.
  20. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

  21. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Well Africa geologically definitely is a continent, but it is also a separate continent culturally - since antiquity: Ptolemaios divided the world into Europe, Asia and Africa, plus hypothetical Terra Australis which later (sort of) was discovered: that is the classical cultural/historical division of the world to which, later, only both Americas and Antarctica have been added.

    Posts so far clearly show that some countries have adopted a more geographical (geological) division into continents (with some cultural/political divisions put in for good measure, like Central America) while others stick more or less to the traditional one.

    Geologically anyway the world does not consist of 6 or 7 continents - there are more than that if you define a continent in terms of plate tectonics (which would define one as a continental plate); plates there are:
    - Eurasian plate
    - African plate (still considered one plate even though Africa is breaking up into several ones at the Great Rift Valley)
    - Arabian plate (more or less Arabic peninsula)
    - Indian plate
    - Australian plate (consists of Australia, New Zealand and Papua-New Guinea)
    - North American plate
    - Caribbean plate (from south of Yucatán to Panama, and including most of the Caribbean isles but without Cuba, so much smaller than the "cultural" concept of Central America)
    - South American plate
    - Antarctic plate

    That makes 9 continental plates - which would sum up to 9 continents geologically.
    All other plates are considered being oceanic plates*) even though they all have small parts of dry lands (Pacific plate: San Francisco**), Hawaii, etc.; Filipino plate: parts of Filipines; and a few smaller ones).
    *) Because they're much thinner and consist of much younger rock; continental plates are like ice floes floating on the sea - the latter being oceanic plates, to complete the metaphor: hopefully this helps to understand the concept.
    **) Actually that's not quite correct: Frisco for the most part - Downtown and Golden Gate - is situated on the continental North American plate (only suburbs spread onto the Pacific plate) while Los Angeles is built on the oceanic Pacific plate. (And in the far future theoretically Los Angeles will drift past Frisco downtown, that is if both towns then will still exist.)

    The reason why I list this is because I don't think we are talking geology here. :) Even to claim that America consists of two continents is on shaky grounds, or more precisely plain wrong in geological terms (as there are "three-and-a-half": with Caribbean plate and that small strip of Pacific plate sticking out of the sea which is called California :)).

    What we're talking about is cultural, historical and political continents, influenced to a degree by geological notions. :)

    Geographically, continents should be divided by plate tectonics; obviously we all have notions of continents which aren't covered by plate tectonics at all.
    There's a Wiki table and article on plate tectonics if you're interested. ;-)
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2009
  22. Thank you, sokol, for those interesting comments; as you point out, we obviously are not using geology as we know it now to define continents.

    On the other hand, the definition of the continents is older than plate tectonic theory, and I think geography - which included almost no understanding of geology until recently - really was the determining factor, mixed with some cultural influence.

    The cultural factor is most obvious in the question of Eurasia vs. Europe-and-Asia. I think xmarabout has a point that there is a degree of Eurocentrism in dividing the Eurasian land mass into two continents, although it's not a matter of Eurosupremacy - after all, Asia gets to be its own continent, too. However, there are very few other places in the world where two or more old, powerful and fundamentally different culture systems abut one another directly without much blending. The only other one I can think of offhand is in the Himalayas, where the Indian Subcontinental culture system crashes up (literally! :)) against the Tibetan and Chinese culture systems. Where else? In Africa, if I understand it correctly, there is more of a gradual transition from North African culture to sub-Saharan culture(s). Therefore, it doesn't seen unforgivably chauvinistic for Europeans and Asians alike to divide their vast landmass into two continents.

    As for all the other continents, there are clear geographic reasons to list them separately. For example, North America and South America are two huge chunks of land connected by a tiny isthmus, so it's logical to think of them as separate continents. Culture is not a factor here because both are part of the European culture system, although of course indigenous cultures continue to exist within the larger societies.

    Why would we not count Antarctica as continent? It's a big, separate landmass. It seems excessively anthropocentric to exclude it just because no humans live there permanently. :)
  23. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Well yes, geography is not the same as geology - and before plate tectonics were discovered geographical divisions were only based on geographical, cultural and political borders: the chapter of the Wiki-article quoted above already, Early concepts of the Old World continents, explains the "method" nicely. :)
  24. Frank78

    Frank78 Senior Member

    Herodotus split his world into 3 continents: Europe , Asia and Afrika.

    I think that´s why Europe and Asia are still regarded as seperate continents. It not even clear where the boundaries of Europa are in the Caucasus Mountains.

    Later all other continents were defined by geological terms: A huge land mass on a tectonic plate. Eurasia and Africa are not on the same plate as well as North and South America aren´t.
  25. Miguelillo 87

    Miguelillo 87 Senior Member

    Mexico City
    México español
    P.S Wow, Austrian and Mexicans have something in common...Maybe it was becuase Maximilian Emperor. (just a joke)
  26. bluegiraffe

    bluegiraffe Senior Member

    Nottingham, England
    English - England
    In England in the 80s we learned there are 5 continents - Europe, Asia, America (just the one! Also called "the Americas"), Africa and Australia.

    If we were being picky we would say there are 7 and also include Antarctica and The Arctic - why has no one else included that? Why Antartica and not The Arctic?
  27. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    A continent is, well: land. The Arctic isn't. :) I guess it is as simple as that. Antarctica, on the other hand, clearly is a huge landmass.
  28. cyberpedant

    cyberpedant Senior Member

    North Adams, MA
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    Substantial parts of Canada and Russia and most of Greenland (land masses) lie above the Arctic Circle. Note the subtle linguistic difference (in English, at least) between "Antarctica"—unquestionably a noun—and "the Arctic"—where "arctic" is arguably an adjective modifying an understood "region."
  29. Lello4ever

    Lello4ever Senior Member

    Italia - Italiano
    Europe, Asia, Africa, America, Oceania, Antarctica are the continents I guess one would "choose" in Italy. Still you could not mention Antarctica (I think because it's not inhabited). No one would consider Europe and Asia as one.
    Personally, I would split Americas too and count 7 continents.
  30. mirx Banned

    Same thing in México, note that we don't call "Australia" the grouping of countries such as New Zealand, Fiji, Marshall Islands and Australia. For us it is and has been Oceania.

    As far as I am cocenrned, Europe and Asia have never been taught to be a single continent in México; in fact, many countries in Eastern Europe were considered part of Asia during the communism in Russia. However, no one, but no one thinks of Russian citizens as Asians, same goes for Indians, Afghorans or Pakistanis.

    In secondary eucation other views on continental division may be presented. The Middle East, the concept of the Americas, Sub-Saharan Africa and India may come into play.
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2009
  31. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    As Forero said earlier, it seems to me that if America is one continent then Europe-Asia-Africa is one continent, too. Eurasia and Africa are as contiguous as North and South America.

    I don't think any one of the sets is completely consistent in its internal logic. They all seem to be a mixture of geographic, cultural and geopolitical influences. The one that surprises me the most is Oceania. I can see it as a region of the world but not a continent. In my mind, New Zealand is no more a part of the continent I call Australia than Madagascar is part of the continent I call Africa.
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2009
  32. newg

    newg Senior Member

    London, UK
    I was taught that there are 7 continents, too :
    - Europe
    - South America
    - North America
    - Asia
    - Africa
    - Antartica
    - Oceania

    I say Oceania because in French when we learn the continents all the teachers will use the word "Océanie" to describe the Australian continent...
    I may be generalizing but I think no one was taught that "Australia" (or Australie in French) was a continent.

    I am also astonished to see the differences between the countries ! Especially by the Eurasia one !
    When I was little and I had to fill the blanks for each continent there were two distinct ones for Europe and Asia. BUT, I was taught that Russia and Turkey were two countries that were in both Europe and Asia and we had to learn it !
  33. I agree about New Zealand and the non-continental nature of Oceania, but Madagascar is different. If Madagascar is not a part of Africa, are Sri Lanka and the Philippines not parts of Asia? And I'm pretty sure that Greenland is part of North America, even though it's an island off the North American coast. The difference between all of these places and New Zealand, it seems to me, is distance: NZ is about 2000 km from Australia. The other countries, including Madagascar, are much closer to the adjacent landmasses.
  34. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    To me Madascagar is an island off the coast of the continent of Africa. Sri Lanka is an island off the coast of India, and the Philippines are not part of the continent of Asia (or Eurasia), for me at all. They are part of the Pacific Islands group.

    As I learned it, a continent is a contiguous land mass. The distinction between Eurasia (or Europe and Asia) and Africa was made on the basis of the narrowing of the connection, just as the distinction between North and South America (counting them as two separate continents) was on the basis of the narrowing of the connection.

    As I said, none of it makes perfect sense. I was taught that Europe and Asia were two continents on a single land mass, divided by a mountain range. By that logic it would be easy to call India a separate continent as well and would make more sense when relating it to plate tectonics.

    It is interesting how it can seem so obvious until you start analyzing the labels and wondering about what motivates them.
  35. rusita preciosa

    rusita preciosa Modus forendi

    USA (Φιλαδέλφεια)
    Russian (Moscow)
    That's an interesting point. In Russian (and as I learned from this thread, in Finnish too), there are two concepts: continents and parts of the world.

    So In Russia we were taught that although Eurasia is one continent, it is two separate parts of the world: Europe and Asia.

    Furthermore, the islands of Japan, for example, are not in Eurasia the continent but are a part or Asia the part of the world.

    Same with Madagascar: it is not a part of Africa the continent but is a part of Africa the part of the world.

    N.Zealand is not in Australia the continent but, together with Australia, is a part of Oceania the part of the world.

    Falklands/Malvinas are not in S.America the continent but in S.Am. the part of the world… etc…

    A bit confusing at first, but once learned, could be very useful.
  36. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    This is my understanding as well, rusita preciosa. I would definitely call someone from Japan "Asian", but I wouldn't consider them living on the continent called Eurasia (or Asia, depending on the naming scheme).
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2009
  37. bluegiraffe

    bluegiraffe Senior Member

    Nottingham, England
    English - England
    Does that mean that Britain and Ireland should be thrown out of the European Union? And what about places such as Croatia which is made up of thousands of islands. Is the mainland Europe/Eurasia but the islands something else??
  38. mirx Banned

    Well, we do speak about "the continent" when referring to mainland Europe.
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2009
  39. rusita preciosa

    rusita preciosa Modus forendi

    USA (Φιλαδέλφεια)
    Russian (Moscow)
    Er... we were talking about continents, what a political organization (EU) has to do with that? :confused:
  40. bluegiraffe

    bluegiraffe Senior Member

    Nottingham, England
    English - England
    Just that it has the title "European" in it and so only accepts countries which are in Europe. I was suggesting that according to the criteria laid out, Britain is not a part of Europe.

    Yes, we do refer to "Europe" as the continent, but also as "Mainland Europe" which suggests we are part of Europe, just not on the same piece of landmass.
  41. mirx Banned

    Of course, that's exactly my point and it brings us back to the question: What is a continent?
    Is it a political, geographical, geological, cultural or territorial entity?
  42. rusita preciosa

    rusita preciosa Modus forendi

    USA (Φιλαδέλφεια)
    Russian (Moscow)
    Well, UK is a part of Europe (just not the continent) and Japan is a part of Asia (just not the continent). As far as I understand from working with representatives of both nations, they feel pretty happy and proud of being island nations! :D
  43. bluegiraffe

    bluegiraffe Senior Member

    Nottingham, England
    English - England
    Well the British representatives that you've met are among the minority in this country that know we're not a part of the continent!!
  44. rusita preciosa

    rusita preciosa Modus forendi

    USA (Φιλαδέλφεια)
    Russian (Moscow)
    Really? I hear often Brits calling things "continental" or "European" to distinguish from British... I also hear "island mentality" said about the British way of thinking.

    P.S. may be because the ones I know are transplants living in the US and thus confused about their identity? :)
  45. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    Yes, geographically speaking, in my way of putting things in categories. The mainland is a continent and the islands are islands. From a geopolitical point of view, it's a different matter. To me, continents are contiguous land masses. In other words, if you took all the labels off of a map of the world you would be able to distinguish continents by size and shape alone. (Of course, there are always gray areas, such as Greenland, and whether you consider the narrowing into a land bridge or isthmus a point of division, but the big "lumps" of land would be the continents.)

    The European Union is a political entity. Eurasia is a land mass. I see them as two different things.

    Are Britain and Ireland on the continent of Eurasia? Not to my way of thinking. They are islands just off the continent. I'm speaking from a geographical point of view, not a geopolitical one. Since we're talking about continents here, though, I'm speaking from the point of view of the big lumps of land.

    Are they a part of Europe, the region? Absolutely, in my categorization of things, just as Japan is a part of Asia, the region, but not on the continent of Eurasia.

    As rusita said, it becomes confusing because we use the same words in two different contexts: Europe, the continent (if you split Eurasia into two parts) and Europe, the region of the world.

    That's why Oceania seems so odd to me. It's not a label depicting a land mass at all. It's a label depicting a region but being called a continent, which to me is a contiguous land mass. As I would see it, Australia is the continent in the region called Oceania.
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2009
  46. HUMBERT0

    HUMBERT0 Senior Member

    Strange, the land mass in their particular case is a group of islands spread in that ocean, last I checked Australia (Although much larger than your average island), New Zealand, and all of the nearby islands are “to be repetitive” islands. Though if you consider Australia as a continental mass, then you may not consider it as an island, and Greenland then is the largest island. One view point holds it as a continent and another sees it as an island, and both cases can be argued.

    Personally I stick to the classification I learn at school, and in my opinion it still holds some logic, thought I do understand other viewpoints. América, África, Asia, Europa, Oceanía y La Antártida.
  47. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    (my emphasis)

    Indeed you do, and you also say that you're spending your holidays in "Europe" as if you weren't part of it. :D

    But in all earnest.
    I'd just like to clear out an (obvious) linguistic misunderstanding.

    What rusita preciosa said was: in Russia they differentiate clearly between:
    - "continent = land mass"
    - "continent = part of the world"
    In Finland they have even different words for them (do you also in Russian, rusita?).

    And when you think about it, probably we all do differentiate this two meanings even if we use the same term.
    In German however I think you need to use "eurasische Landmasse" if you only want to refer to Eurasian mainland and not the part of the world (Landmasse = land), equally "europäische Landmasse" etc. to only refer to the mainland of a continent.

    At least in German "Eurasia" (or at least that is what I am used to, here in Austria) always will include islands close to this continent; in continental Europe this certainly will include the British Isles and Ireland, we're even counting Iceland as a part of Europe, and Greenland too (even though the latter belongs to the North American plate and is much closer to Canada).

    Also we will include Madagaskar mentally when speaking of Africa, and for us it is very clear that Cuba and Barbados belong to America while Japan definitely is Asian; only when talking about Indonesia and the Filippines some people probably will think of them as Asian while for others they belong rather to Oceania.
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2009
  48. mirx Banned

    I could have not said it better for Mexico, including the part of the Phillipines and Indonesia. I myself had a quick look at Wikipedia before making my first post.
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2009
  49. rusita preciosa

    rusita preciosa Modus forendi

    USA (Φιλαδέλφεια)
    Russian (Moscow)
    Yep, two different words in Russian:
    мaтеpики [materiki] or континeнты [kontinenty] = continents
    чacти cвeтa [tchasty sveta] = literally, "parts of the world".
  50. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    I'm curious... how do you classify Hawaii? Is it part of the American continent or would it be considered part of Oceania or Asia?
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page