December 11, 2007

#01-048: The Continents - Part I: Background

map of the world with numerous colored areas, not exactly the continents
The four-or-seven continents

Note: In late 2007 all of China was in the grips of the "Olympic fever," since the Beijing games were coming in August of 2008. I used this as a "hook" for an article about the continents.

Get Ready: How many continents are there?

Have you ever wondered about the five rings on the official flag of the Olympics?

Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games, wrote in 1913 that the five rings "represent the five parts of the world which now are won over to Olympism..."

These days it's popular to say that the five rings represent "the five continents." But are there really only five continents?

The answer to this question largely depends on where you went to school. In English-speaking North America, we are usually taught that there are seven continents (Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America), though sometimes we are told there are six, with Europe and Asia comprising "Eurasia." In other educational systems, Antarctica is left out, since it's not naturally populated by humans. 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.

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.

Generally, the female forms of names are used. That's why most of the continents end in "-a" (and all of them, in most European languages besides English, since Europe is called "Europa.") As an aid to memory, you can recall that in English, six of the continents' names start and end with "a," and one starts and ends with "e." (But remember to add "North" and "South" to the Americas!)

  • AfricA
  • AntarcticA
  • AsiA
  • AustraliA
  • (North) AmericA
  • (South) AmericA
  • EuropE

Now, about those Olympic rings: They are generally agreed to represent Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and both Americas as one. Antarctica is omitted because no one from there has participated in the Olympics. No particular ring-color is associated with any particular continent.

We won't be able to resolve this question of how many continents there are. But next time we'll look at the origins of the English names of the seven continents.


Read more:

Practice: Match the halves of the sentences.

  1. The founder of the modern Olympics said
  2. Some people think the five rings represent
  3. The five Olympic rings might stand for
  4. Different countries and cultures disagree about
  5. The number of continents is usually stated as
  6. Eurasia is made up of
  7. "Continent" is related to
  8. The names of most continents
  9. In English, the main parts of the continents' names
  10. There is no direct match between

  1. use female forms.
  2. between four and seven.
  3. something about the five rings in the Olympic logo.
  4. Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Americas.
  5. start and end with the same letter (usually "a").
  6. Europe and Asia.
  7. the "five continents."
  8. a ring's color and a continent.
  9. "continuous" and "contain."
  10. the number of continents.

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for December 11, 2007

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. c; 2. g; 3. d; 4. j; 5. b; 6. f; 7. i; 8. a; 9. e; 10. h