Available on “All 5 Continents”

Image by Ssolbergj via Wikipedia

What do geography and translation have in common?
Here’s a hint: How many continents do YOU think there are? (Oh yes, a question can TOO be a hint!)

Not seeing it? OK, here goes. Both geography and translating have a cultural component. Still no “ah-hah!”? Let me back up then.

I do a lot of translating from Spanish to English and often stumble onto (or over) the claim that something is “disponible en todos los 5 continentes,” which very straight-forwardly (though perhaps somewhat non-sensically) translates to “available on all 5 continents.”

But Wait. Just. A. Minute! Whaddya mean all FIVE continents? Everyone knows there are SEVEN continents!

Well, actually, no. Not everyone knows there are seven continents. Some people know there are five. And others know there are six.

Now you’re probably ALL scratching your heads—and depending on where you were educated, you’re puzzled for different reasons. You might think that geography—being a science and all—would consist of rather universal truths, but think again.

If you’re from Chile, you know that there are 5 continents and can’t understand what the heck the gringa is going on about now. If you’re from the US, where we know there are actually 7 continents, you might wonder what parts of the globe the Chileans have yet to discover. If you’re from Europe, you probably think we’re all nuts, because YOU know there are SIX continents!

Many areas of knowledge—such as geography and translation—have a cultural element that affects the way we “know” things.

A little research into the HMC (How Many Continents) question shows that in the so-called classic times there were just 3 known continents: Africa, Asia, and Europe. Then Christopher Colombus (AKA Cristóbal Colón to Spanish speakers and Cristoforo Colombo to his Italian paisanos) decided to round out this flat old Earth and bumped into the Americas along the way, and ah! we start running into problems. Then other Euro-sailors who couldn’t leave well enough alone got the itch and kept sighting all these islands in the Pacific, and Oceania (which isn’t a continent in the traditional sense at all) made its way onto the list (except where they call it Australia, which hardly seems fair to all the other islands). And then, not all that long ago, the first explorers made it to the south pole and voile, Antarctica joined the Big 7 (or 6, or 5).

So What’s a Continent anyway?

Warp back to 5th (or was it 3rd?) grade geography when you learned the definition of a continent. It was probably something along the lines of “a large, continuous land mass,” which is all well and good for Africa, but what about the rest?
Take a look at Europe and Asia on a map. One land mass or two?
How about Oceania/Australia? Looks like a bunch of islands to me!
Antarctica? A large ice mass.
And then there’s the brouhaha (love this word!) over America.

One America or two?

Danger! Approaching socio-linguistic eggshell minefield zone!
Another translation anomaly that comes up fairly frequently is what to do with “estamos presentes en toda América,” or literally, “we’re present in all of America.” But what does that mean, exactly? You can bet your bottom peso that anyone from Latin America is not referring to the United States. (I’ll dig out my 10-foot–no, make that 11-foot(!) pole and get back to THAT issue in another post). America, in the Latino world, includes everything from Canada to Patagonia. North, Central, and South, it’s all just one America and therefore just one continent. And given that the Panama Canal was a relatively late-breaking human idea, they’ve got a point.

So that would add up to a 6-continent system: Africa, America, Antarctica, Asia, Australia (ever notice how many A’s are in this list?) and Europe.

Europe + Asia = Eurasia

But wait! There’s more!
If you accept that North and South America combine to make just one continent, then it’s pretty hard to claim that that enormous northern landmass with England on one side and Japan on the other is really, in fact, two separate continents. ¿Cachái? Capisce? Catch my (continental) drift?

So there you have a pretty strong argument for 5-continent system: Africa, America, Antarctica, Australia/Oceania, and Eurasia.

Except, oops! Not in Chile—even though Chile owns a sizable chunk of Antarctica, they don’t count it as a continent! Chile’s 5 are: Africa, America, Asia, Australia/Oceania, and Europe.

The Culture of Geography

The cultural element at the root of knowledge.
National Geographic acknowledges that “to some geographers, however, “continent” is not just a physical term; it also carries cultural connotations.”

I think the Chileans are moseying down this route. It makes sense. Europe and Asia are joined in a huge mass of land, but culturally couldn’t be more different, which would justify the continental divorce.

The same logic could also justify NOT dividing the Americas in two, although I suppose someone could make a good argument for separating the two just at the US-Mexican border.

And then there’s Antarctica, which has no endemic culture of its own, so they just skip it, and therefore when a Chilean product is available on “All 5 continents,” it means you can find it in Africa, America (North & South), Asia, Europe, and Oceania (because they’re nice and include the rest of the islands along with Australia).

The Culture of Translation

Getting back to the translation bit, we’re still stuck with what to do with a potential continental stink bomb like “todos los 5 continentes” and “en toda América.”

Because the goal of translation is to clearly communicate an idea from a speaker of language A (Spanish) to a speaker of language B (English) in a way that makes sense to both, it is often necessary to tweak the words in favor of the idea. And therefore, since Spanish speaker A is more interested in having English speaker B understand that the product is available “everywhere” than in quibbling over the number of continents in the world, it makes more sense to say that the product is “available on every continent” or even “available around the world.” I have yet to hear a client complain.

The America vs. Americas issue is a bit stickier, however, because Latin Americans have more vested interest in what they see as “United Statesians” usurping their continent. But the bottom line is that what they want to communicate is that the product in question is indeed available in many countries between Canada and Patagonia and if they want the English speaker to get that—like it or not—they need to go with “the Americas” (plural) or go long and specify “throughout North and South America” to avoid confusion.

Continental Scheming:

7 Continent Scheme:
Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia (or Oceania), Europe, North America, and South America

6 Continent Scheme:
Africa, America, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, and Europe
Africa, Antarctica, Australia, Eurasia, North America, and South America

5 Continent Scheme:

Africa, America, Antarctica, Eurasia, and Oceania
Africa, America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania

So, how many continents does YOUR globo terraqueo (globe) have?

36 responses to “Available on “All 5 Continents”

  1. According to my 9 and 7 year olds, current education in Chile teaches 6 continents, your list of 5 plus antartica. Otherwise, how could they teach that Chile is a tri-continental country, and if you cannot tell them that Chile is a tri-continental country you will surely fail 2nd, 3rd and at least 4th (that’s all we’re up to) grade science/social studies.

    At school in Aus, back in the day, we learnt there were 7 continents, including North and South America as separate continents and Aus as the only continent that was also a whole country, but I don’t recall where that left NZ, PNG etc… non-continental island nations? So the term oceania (which I always want to pronounce as océana) seems somewhat random to me (which ocean, which part of which ocean etc), and is often used to refer to all those island nations, excluding Aus. I guess it is a reasonable way of grouping the countries in the Eastern Pacific and Western Indian Oceans, and makes more sense than any alternative.

  2. In my childhood, I was taught the second five-continent scheme: Europa, Asia, Africa, América, Oceanía (the last two with an accent). Later (much later), I realized that Antártida (not Antártica) also existed, and we Chileans own a part of it. I know that Oceania is not very convincing as a continent, and, on the following issue, we should make up our mind:
    i) if we use a geographic criterion, both Eurasia and America are each ONE continent;
    ii) if we employ a cultural criterion, Europe and Asia should be separated, but NOT America. (Here, we are all Westerners, are we not? That’s another thorny issue.)
    So, how many? Take your choice.

  3. @Stephanie- glad to hear that Chilean school kids are now learning that Antarctica is a continent! Now, how to go about teaching the “mature” generations–many of which are 20-somethings! I translate a lot for the wine industry and the expression “cinco continentes” appears almost weekly, which makes me think that the 6th continent is a fairly recent appearance. And, as you mention, the idea of Chile being tri-continental has to include Rapa Nui (Easter Island) as part of Oceania (which includes the other Pacific islands beyond Australia, obviously). Interesting, ¿no?

  4. @Raul-it seems that the definitions re not only culturally influenced, but fluid as well! My husband also learned the 5-continent, no Antarctica system–as did (it seems) the people in the marketing departments of the different wineries that I translate for. But, as Stephanie pointed out, if Chile wants to bolster its hold on Antarctica and its stand as a tri-continental country, it most definitely needs to recognize Antarctica (Ant-Arctic or, as you point out, Antártida, in Spanish).
    The case of “America” is interesting–one culture or two? If we say western, clearly it’s one. If we say northern Europe versus southern Europe, it’s two, divided at the US-Mexican border–which I’ve never heard anyone try to argue before, although it makes as much sense as dividing Europe and Asia!

    Anyone else want to weigh in on this one?

  5. Ha ha. I’m mature but quite dyscalculic so I can’t remember how many continents I was taught there were.
    I was honoured when my daughter in law’s family told me I wasn’t a gringa because I come from England “and that didn’t count” 🙂

    Going from great to tiny and the confused in translation thing, my son and his wife spent 3 years heatedly arguing about whether wasps bite or sting. He said some terrible things about the Chilean education system and she about the English one, until we realised they are different types of wasp. Chilean ones DO bite and English one DO sting. Well who’d have guessed it?

  6. Hi Anne-
    I have to confess that I had to look up (google) “dyscalculic”–I don’t think I’ve ever come across that word before! Don’t know why though, because I’m rather “math challenged” myself!
    And yes, strictly speaking, gringos are from the US, although here in Chile often anyone who’s fair-haired is called a gringo, and blondes are “rucios”
    Nice example of the translation/cultural understanding thing. Wasps–who knew?

  7. This is something I have also noticed and wondered about. It seems to be related to cultural perceptions. I found this link you may find useful http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/continents.htm 5 continents

    It is not only Chileans who are taught there are 5 continents. This comes from European influence, and I quote here “We have been taught in school (way back in the 60’s in Europe) that there are five continents, Africa, America, Asia, Australia and Europe, for instance symbolised in the five rings of the Olympic Games. ”
    It seems that nowadays, there is no standard definition for the number of continents. However, people in Europe, for example, do not separate America. It is in the US where I have noticed America becomes a country only, not a continent, thus forcing the rest of Americans to become hyphenated people (Latin-Americans, Central-Americans).
    PS: ‘América’ is feminine, though. When referring to the continent you say ‘toda América’ or ‘las Américas’ as has become widespread now.

  8. Hi A A- Thanks for the great insights. Good link to One World Nations On-Line Project, which appears to be based in Germany.
    When I was googling around for info for this post, I found it interesting that the answers I got to my questions differed by the language I googled in! “How many continents” usually got “7,” while “Cuántos continentes” came back wth “5”! More validation for the cultural understanding argument!
    And yes–I know the “America issue” well. And when I find that darned 11-foot pole, I’ll come back to touch it!
    Thanks too for correcting my gender-challenged Spanish! You’d think that I’d have that down by now (20 years in). I’ve fixed the error in the text, so America is indeed feminine–THANKS!

  9. This issue crops up on the other side of the cordillera as well. I remember thinking my Argentine husband was nuts the first time he tried to tell me there were five continents! I still think he’s nuts but for reasons unrelated to geography. 😉

    I like that you discussed the sociolinguistic implications of this difference as well. Great post!

  10. This is a great subject, and widely discussed on the internet; some say 5, other 6, and others 7, and more. If we apply a cultural filter, we should separate Canada and U.S. from the rest of the continent, and also we should separate Brazil. To most foreigners, especially English speakers, Brazil is the same as Mexico or Argentina, but is also different from the rest of South or Latin (I don´t like the term “latin” in this context) America.
    Then, we should separate Asia in West, East, South and North; (can we have a Syrian, a Chinese, an Indian and a Russian in the same cultural category?), and also separate North Africa from Sub Saharan Africa…
    Don´t get me started with the “America” vs “America” subject, I´ve read a lot of discussions about it, and both have reasonable arguments, and of course, tons of trolling!
    I hope Margaret starts a new post with the America thing, that would be epic. xD

  11. Hi Marmo-
    Sounds like you’re making the argument for REGIONS! One site I saw places 195 countries in 8 regions: Asia, Europe, Middle East & North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, North America, Central America & Caribbean, South America, Australia & Oceania (still no Antarctica though).
    You’re waiting for the America(s) post, huh? I’ll have to build up my resistance before I hit that one! Remember all the flack I took for commenting on dumb things foreigners do that upset Chileans? (https://cachandochile.wordpress.com/2009/11/28/ways-to-alienate-a-chilean/) I can just imagine the reaction on THIS issue!

  12. If it weren´t such an antisocial website, I would recommend you to visit the international section on 4chan. They troll Americans EVERYDAY with subjects like the “America, a country or a continent?”. I´ll just say,
    -“Where´s America?
    -“In North America”
    -“What´s North America?”
    -“The northern part of America”
    -“So, America is in the northern part of America?”
    -(trolling ongoin for hours)

  13. Uf! See what I mean? Sticky, sticky, stick!

  14. I’m from New Zealand and having had this issue with my step-son here in Chile, I now can’t remember *exactly* what we were taught there. I’m fairly sure that we learned Europe, Asia, Africa, America, Antarctica and Australia as “either a small continent or a large island”. Thus, 5 or 6, depending on what class you put Australia into. We were taught the “large land mass” idea and therefore New Zealand was not part of a continent. We were a collection of Islands. We use Oceania to refer to a geographical region, not to a continent. Of course, this might have changed. I’ll have to ask my 8 year old niece.

  15. I remember Oceania as the group of land mass scattered across the Pacific Ocean. That included Australia, New Zealand, Polinesia, and all the small islands around that weren´t part of Asia. As Rachel says, in this case, Oceania is more a geographical zone than a specific land mass.
    America is in America? xD

  16. Some Spanish corrections.
    “En todos los 5 continentes” should be “En los 5 continentes”.
    “en toda America” should be “en toda América”
    “The America vs. Americas issue” should be (in my opinion) “The América vs. Americas issue”

    Here is a map of South America according to Europeans: http://home.nordnet.fr/~bmoreaux/visites/ameriq_sud_2003.htm

  17. Hi Rachel- Thanks for the NZ perspective. Somehow I’ve always thought that every bit of land on the planet belonged to a continent, which makes me want to say Oceania instead of Australia and include the Caribbean in North America. Maybe it’s just an idea I cooked up myself over the years. Wouldn’t be the first thing I’ve made up over time!

    Marmo-right- that’s the take I’m taking with Oceania. Also includes Rapa Nui (Easter Island to some), which makes Chile a “tri-continental country”.
    Oh yeah… and you’re an INSTIGATOR! (I didn’t make up all that America stuff!)

  18. Hi Pedro-
    Nice to see you back around here! And thanks for the corrections… my Spanish is good, but far from perfect (as I keep proving over and over again). At this point I’m sure I’ve hard-wired many bad habits, so I appreciate the corrections so that hopefully, SOMEday, I’ll finally get things right!
    That said, my comments on your corrections (I’m also stubborn, if you haven’t noticed, although I like to think I’m NOT close-minded).
    1-Todos los 5 continentes: this is an expression I’m repeatedly called on to translate, so I’ll keep it. The authors are trying to emphasize the universality of their products (wine, mostly)
    2-Toda America/América: oops! ¡toda la razón! correction made
    3-America vs Americas vs América: I was writing in English, so no accent here.
    Thanks for the link- very interesting… and there you have it–someone HAS made an argument for separating “America” and the US-Mexican border!

  19. North and South America are two separate continents. Culturally and geographically. Anybody who has lived in both places can attest to this fact. And do people seriously think that N. And S. America are one single land mass? Because we are connected by a little sliver of land called Panama??? Really? Africa Is more connected to Asia than N. America is to S. America. In fact, the Suez Canal is THREE TIMES longer than the panama canal! And culturally, S. America tries much harder to be like Europe than EE.UU. Actually, I would say Chile is by far the most “Western,” i

  20. i.e., “American” thinking out of all of South America, and there are still huge cultural differences between us. So, if logic has any say whatsoever in the matter, there are clearly 7 continents (including Antarctica of course).

  21. Pingback: Protests « A tramp in Chile

  22. Great post!! I’ve had some heated conversations with friends of mine about this. They were seriously pissed off at me when I told them not every country teaches 5 continents to their children. As if it were my fault!!

  23. Amazing how attached we get to our notions about things we hold to be truths! I was stunned to learn that anyone could think there were anything but SEVEN continents–live and learn!

  24. Pingback: Available on “All 5 Continents” (via Cachando Chile: Reflections on Chilean Culture) « Notes

  25. Hi Margaret,

    To me “en todos los cinco continentes” is not Spanish. Google shows 1.44 million results, but I’m not convinced. “En los cinco continentes” appears 3.85 million times, i.e. a factor of 2.7. Not enough, according to my standards (a factor of 301,500 would be really nice), but I’m still not convinced.

    Please compare “all my four siblings” 603,000 times with “todos mis cuatro hermanos” 2 times.

    However, I didn’t come here to argue, but to tell you was that wine isn’t sold in supermarkets in Antarctica, so the sentence “disponible en los 6 continentes” wouldn’t be factually correct.

  26. Hi Pedro- Sorry I missed this earlier–I was traveling and some things slipped through the cracks.
    I really like it that you engage and give serious thought to some of the ideas I throw out there. I really appreciate the feedback. And your “todos los cinco” argument just goes to show that not everything that gets translated starts off correct in its original language! Translators (good ones, anyway) are often (always) called upon to be good editors too!
    So you can’t buy alcohol anywhere in Antarctica? Really? Wow. Not a single bar either? (Again, see previous point!)

  27. Wow, Margaret, my head is spinning!

  28. Hi Thorny- yeah! I just re-read the post and all the comments and my head is now spinning too!
    It also reminded me yet once again of the real value of blogs vs the printed page. Comments turn an article into a conversation. It goes from a one-way monologue into a many-voiced dialogue. I’ve argued with friends who do not allow comments on their blogs that they are missing out on the best part–the opportunity to develop an idea much farther by engaging with readers…

  29. saludos:cuando niño enseñaban que si separar por fiderencia cultural mas que fisica fuera primero, se decia que entonces Asia tambien incluiria a la India como un subcontinente diferente en Asia, eso me daria a mi el numero de 8 en la dicusion que no tiene sentido, la pregunta mia es a partir de que cosa especificamente ellos(EEUU)se saparan solos como un pais continente? es por lengua, geografia, norte o sur,LOS QUE TIENEN QUE DEFINIRSE SON ELLOS MISMOS, por aqui en el otro emisferio tenemos asumido que el continente es el mismo,son otros los que se autoseparan con criterios muy especificos.si es norte y sur toda geografia se separaria por linea de ecuador,algo absurdo para hoy, si es cultural nos llenamos de continentes propios autodenominados, si es por lengua entonces peor ya que existen mas que dos,el continente no se divide en solo dos idiomas, ingles español,son muchas mas las masivas, partiendo por idiomas autoctonos indigenistas de sur a norte, y si por idioma fuera la separacion seriamos mas continentes, ya que existe brasil en portugues y canada con territorios de habla francesa igual que por aca en el sur del continente,la separaracion occidentales de no ocidentales es mas extraña para este lado del planeta como separar aquello es como norte sur pero de este a oeste, quienes no son accidentales espero que no sea separacion por origen religioso ya que todo el continente tiene origen comun, judeocristiano, el nombre america se lo dio europa a toda tierra nueva descuvierta, la cual fue de origen latino en honor a un hombre latino AMERICO VESPUCIO, por ello es que para nosotros es america, si no fuera de origen latino tendria otro nombreen anglo,si fueran un continente propio por que se llama america igual o para referirse a el pais EEUU se denominan norteamerica excluyendo de esa separacion a canada, es tam absurdo como separar una masa de tierra en dos continentes por el echo de construir un dique de barcos en la franja deljada en panama o separar norte sur almedio de un gran territorio solo por frontera de pais como lo es mexico de nuevo mexico, o de california de baja california,arizona o texas, que culturalmente fueron pobladas por los mismo que siempre an vivido en el mismo lugar,hispanos,nativos americanos y colonos ingleses, que por sierto COLONOS viene de la palabra latina COLON, OSEA EN HONOR A OTRO LATINO CRISTOBAL COLON, pienso que la confucion es solo de las personas de EEUU que les enseñas a autodefinirse a si mismos con criterios separatistas de algun todo mayor que no asumen, reitero que esa confucion es solo de mala informacion,de dos continentes con el mimo nombre, siendo del mismo origen y proceso historico vivido en europa siglo xvi, de colonos todos de europa todos con distintas lenguas o idiomas, todos occidentales de origen judeocristianos, en el mismo y basto territorrio que comprende desde estrecho bering, alaska hasta estrecho magallanes patagonia.america es solo america y sino lo fuera asi entonces EEUU convensa a Canada y valla a la ONU y proponga su propio nombre en anglofrances y que las otras que alli viven esten de acuerdo comunidades ya que al parecer tampoco toman en cuenta en estas definiciones a los de origen y cultural como los afroamericanos, indigenas , asiaticos, hispanos,arabicos, o franceses o latinos y un sinfim de enormes diferencias , saludos

  30. america es america sino por que se llama america tambien si fueran tan distintos tendrian todo distinto incluso su nombre, talves la confucion sea por el nivel de desarrollo tecnico,jajaaa

  31. Hola Fer- Sí, no hay nada fácil en el intento de intender las varias divisiones de continentes–pero, para aclarar una cosa–
    Ni idea a quién se le courrió, ni cuándo, pero la división entre Norte America y Sudamérica no es cultural, sino geográfico, en su punto más delgado, entre Panamá y Colombia. Por lo menos tiene más sentido (geográfico) que la división entre Europa y Asia.
    A propósito— eso de llamar a la gente de Estados Unidos “Norte Americanos” nos suena tan raro a nosotros como a ustedes cuando nosotros decimos “americanos”. Para nosotros Norte America contempla muchos países, desde Canadá a Panamá. El problema más grande es que en inglés, no existe un adjetivo que corresponde a “estadounidense”. Alguien me sugerió el otro día “US American” que me tincó mucho, aunque fue la permerísima vez que lo había escuchado.

  32. Comentario corto (cómo si pudiera serlo. Muy buen post, por lo demás).

    No creo que debas hacer un post que enfrente el “la América” con el “las Américas”, puesto que gran parte del que moleste que los estadounidenses se llamen americanos proviene de una base político cultural que viene desde “América para los americanos”, la horrible sensación de saber que quienes se hacen llamar americanos (dueños de América) tratan en desigualdad de condiciones a los demás americanos y se aprovechan de ellos, la intervención política no sólo en el continente, sino en todo el mundo (que deja mal parado el gentilicio americano, puesto que gracias a la revolución en las comunicaciones el término se extendió tras las guerras mundiales a todo el mundo, y nosotros sentimos que nos dejan mal a nosotros), pasando por las dictaduras apoyadas o impuestas por Estados Unidos (o los Estados Unidos, ¡mira, allí hay otro punto sobre el plural y el singular!).

    Culturalmente está el tema del mismo descubrimiento del continente, principalmente de centro a sur, y el que los ingleses sólo tuvieran muy pocas tierras en el norte, (si un inglés decía que iba a América, ¿a dónde más iría? No tenían todo el resto del continente para regocijarse como los españoles), el que hablar de las Américas quita a Canadá la posibilidad de pertenecer a un continente (ay, los canadienses que hablan inglés), y la peor de todas, quizás, es que, si te autodenominas “americano”, como mínimo se espera que guardes algo de americano, y a los estadounidenses no se les ve mucho de nativos que digamos.

    Además está todo el tema de que no son la misma masa de tierra de cuando se conformaron los continentes, pero el tema de los idiomas, pero nada de eso importa ante lo que te quiero decir.

    ¿A qué apunto? A que para entrar a explicar la molestia que sienten los chilenos o los latinoamericanos frente al tema “América, Américas”, tendrás que explicar toda una cultura que proviene desde la niñez, incluyendo temas no sólo geográficos o lingüisticos, sino históricos y políticos, y allí es donde la cosa se pondría fea. Tendrías que explicar el enorme daño que Estados Unidos le ha hecho al resto de América durante siglos para que se comprenda qué tan hondo duele que nos quiten el mismo dominio del continente (una vez lo expresé de este modo, si me permites, “¿luchará alguien por una tierra que no considera suyo?”, asumo que conoces la fuerza del lenguaje, y una vez que el castellano de América como continente se mezcla con el “no soy americano porque ellos son americanos”, ¿qué sentir?). Hablar de eso es abrir muchas heridas. Muchas. Por eso te recomiendo que no lo hagas, Quizá porque lo verás desde el punto de vista del estadounidense y no verás el dolor que causa y es algo que se lleva con la identidad formada por toda una vida, o quizá porque no podrás cubrir todo, por mucho que te esfuerces (y no dudo de tus esfuerzos en este blog).

    Un saludo de parte de una seguidora 😀

  33. There could be an argument made for only THREE: Eurasia, the Americas, Africa, and the ice mass Antartica (or FOUR, if you include it as a continent,) since Australia is an Island. And, I’ve seen no word about the subcontinent of India, which, not so long ago (in geologic time) was a “continent” larger than the island of Australia. Things change: I also learned about the theoretical SINGLE landmass Pangea, from whence they all came. Of course I was also taught that the word “dilemma” was spelled AND pronounced “dilemna” (with the “n”) so that shows what my teachers knew 40 years ago in Colorado.
    I think a safe bet would be to translate the expression into something like “available everywhere” or “in all regions of the world,” neutralizing the math and cultural connotations.

  34. Great article, and as a Spa-Eng translator I come across the same thing all the time. I’m from the UK, where we’re taught that there are seven continents, and – if I can dimly recall my days of high school geography – that’s because the definition of a continent has something to do with whether it lies atop a separate tectonic plate or not. North and South America are separate tectonic plates, hence the separation into two continents.

    To throw something else into the Australia/Oceania mix, we sometimes use the term ‘Australasia’, to describe the geographical entity of Australia + New Zealand + a few other islands, which all sit on the same tectonic plate. I believe ‘Oceania’ is a more political term, used for things like sports tournaments and the like.

    By the way, Antarctica is definitely a continent by any definition because there is land there, underneath all that ice. Rather a lot of land, in fact: more land than in all of Europe, or indeed in all of Australasia. It’s the Arctic where there’s no land, just ice.

    If the fact that North and South America are joined (notwithstanding the Panama canal) is to be considered important for any reason, then don’t forget that Africa is also joined to Asia, notwithstanding the Suez canal.

    Finally, on a personal note, I think it’s quite dangerous to start adding cultural definitions into the mix, because if one claims that the Americas are one continent due to their cultural similarity, whereas Europe and Asia are two continents due to their cultural difference, you are effectively saying that the entire continent of Asia shares a culture. Which is, let’s face it, a bit crazy. There are no cultural parallels between, say, Russia and Vietnam, or Japan and Saudi Arabia, that would warrant lumping them together as a single continent on a solely cultural basis. So if you separate Europe from Asia for cultural reasons, you’d then have to start separating big chunks of Asia from each other, and we’d end up with 11 or 12 continents! And that’s not even taking Africa into consideration, where – on a cultural basis – one could make a good argument for separating the areas north and south of the Sahara.

  35. Thanks Matthew! Excellent points!
    I hadn’t heard the tectonic plate argument before, but it makes sense, at least along the west coast of the Americas (and I confess my ignorance regarding the plates on the Atlantic side!)
    And I agree about the cultural difference argument. In my understanding, continents are meant to be defined by geographical (and or geological) terms. Thanks for your contributions!

  36. I was raised in Spain and they teach there are 5 continents, Europe, Asia, Africa, America and Oceania.

    That’s why there are 5 rings in the olympic symbol, each one represents one of the five continents

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