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Although a continent is defined as a large, continuous land mass, there are two schools of thought concerning what a continent is. Learn what the alternative perspectives are in this video.See Transcript
Generally the term continent brings up images of a large mass of land, Australia is a great example. However, it turns out that it is easier to picture a continent than it is to define it by any certain characteristics.
What is a Continent?
The dictionary defines a continent as a large, continuous, discrete mass of land, ideally separated by expanses of water. With this definition, Australia is one of the only land masses taught as a continent that still lives up to the title–being that it is very big and separated from all other land masses by an expanse of water. The same is true for Antarctica if it is thought of as the ice mass at the South Pole and not just a collection of smaller islands, that it actually is underneath the ice. The remaining land masses taught as continents in school are all connected to at least one other continent. Which, if following the dictionary definition, change the continental divisions and lump continents together to create the Americas and Afro-Eurasia. With this definition, there are basically four continents, which few people accept as fact.
For a scientific answer, Geologists define continents by the tectonic plates that lay beneath the land masses. So, excluding the plates above which there is not any significant land mass, this would yield nine continents, where the Americas are divided into three continents, one of which includes parts of Russia, and the middle east and India are independent continents.
Both of these numbers vastly miss the continental total of 6 or 7 that is taught in schools. This discrepancy leads to the practice of learning the continents as what they are generally accepted to be, based mainly on historical convention, and ignoring any specifics as far as geographic reasoning. Following this logic, there are either 6 or 7 continents depending on where the lesson is being taught.
Many English speaking countries, China, and India teach 7 continents; North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, Antarctica.
Alternative Perspective on Continents
There are two schools of thought, which teach 6 continents. Most Spanish speaking countries and portions of Western Europe combine North and South America making the continents, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, the Americas and Antarctica. On the other hand many scientists combine Europe and Asia, as it is one sold landmass, making Eurasia, North America, South America, Africa, Australia, Antarctica.
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