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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Continents


GET READY:

How many continents are there? (See the answer under "NOTES" below.)

READ THIS:

Here is some information on the English names of the different continents (seven, for our purposes).

a. Africa: The name comes into English from Latin. The Romans had colonies on the north coast of the African continent (along the Mediterranean) and came into contact with groups of people in modern-day Tunisia called "the Afri." The Romans named their colony "Africa" after these people, and the name is now applied to the entire continent of over 30.2 million square kilometers.
b. Antarctica: The "ant-" here means "opposite" or "against," as in such words as antibiotic and antisocial. So Antarctic is the opposite of the Arctic, the area around the North Pole. "Arctic" comes from the Greek word arktos, meaning "bear." All around the globe, the bear is more common in the far north, so the Arctic is his area. By the way, the English name Arthur (as in the great king in legends) comes from this word as well.
c. Asia: This name was first used by the Greeks nearly 2500 years ago; they may have borrowed it from a Middle Eastern language. Most agree that it refers to the rising of the sun, which of course happens in the East. But others say it may have come from a word that meant "good."
d. Australia: This one's easier: only a few hundred years old, it comes from the Latin term Terra Australis, meaning "Land of the South." It is the only case where a country and a continent have the same proper name. (Most continents contain more than one country; Antarctica contains none.)
e. Europe: We are often told that Europe was named after Europa, a princess abducted by the god Zeus in a myth. But what was she named after? The word may have meant "broad face," a synonym for "earth." Many ancient cultures call their area simply "the land" or "the earth." But other scholars believe "Europe" may have come from a word that referred to the West, where the sun sets, much as Asia refers to the East, where the sun rises.
f. America (North and South): Most people agree that these two large landmasses were named for Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian explorer and mapmaker. Christopher Columbus mistakenly believed that he had reached the Eastern portion of Asia. We still call the Caribbean Islands where he landed "the West Indies," and many still call Native Americans "Indians." Vespucci was among the first to suggest that, no, this was a land entirely unknown to Europe before Columbus sailed.
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By the way, the word "continent" itself is closely related to the words "continuous" and "contain." You could say that a continent is a continuous area that contains a certain amount of land.

NOTES:

So how many continents are there? In English-speaking North America, we are usually taught that there are seven continents (Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America). But sometimes we are told there are six, with Europe and Asia making "Eurasia." In other school systems, Antarctica is left out, as humans don't naturally live there. And some even count North and South America as one, "The Americas." So in various systems there may be anywhere from four to seven continents.

PRACTICE:

On which content can you find these?

1. the world's largest tropical rain forest
2. more penguins than people
3. Mexico
4. four of the world's six smallest countries
5. the world's longest river
6. kangaroos
7. the world's largest population

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION OR WRITING:

1. What continent do you live on? What is it called in your language?
2. How many countries are there on your continent?
3. What language is spoken by most of the people on your continent?

ANSWERS TO THE PRACTICE:

1. f South America (the Amazon basin)
2. b Antarctica
3. f North America (in Latin America, but not South America)
4. e Europe (1. Vatican City, 2. Monaco, 5. San Marino, 6. Liechtenstein. The other two are 3. Nauru and 4. Tuvalu)
5. a Africa (the Nile, though some say the Amazon in South America is longer)
6. d Australia
7. c Asia (in China)

This lesson is ©2011 by James Baquet. You may share this work freely. Teachers may use it in the classroom, as long as students are told the source (URL). You may not publish this material or sell it. Please write to me if you have any questions about "fair use."

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