Q: What are the continents of the world?
A: This is not supposed to be a political
question, but it is. Americans,
Australians and Europeans have different versions of the continents.
There is no authority (like the United Nations) whose job it is to
Generally, continents are big, continuous land
masses. The Europeans consider America to be one continent, but the
Americans prefer to count North America and South America separately.
As for Europe, there's no scientific basis to
separate it from Asia—geologically the two are one slab of land,
Eurasia. But like the North and South Americans, the Europeans wanted a
their own, so they decided that the Ural Mountains would be a suitable
So it turns out that continents are divisions of
convenience, not just big, continuous land
During the 20th Century we had to organize the
into groups for one purpose or another, like the United Nations, the
Olympics, Interpol, and global databases. There are nearly 200
countries in the world. How
do we organize them into a handful of groups? And what do we call those
groups? Continents, of
That means all countries—including
the Pacific islands of New Zealand, Micronesia, Melanesia and
Polynesia—must be assigned to a
continent. So we had to envisage an artificial continent to encompass
Pacific island nations. That continent is called Oceania.
But again, it's political. Some argue
that Oceania is a region, not a continent (by the same rules, Europe
and Asia are also regions, not continents). The Australians like
to think of "the continent of Australia." But New Zealanders resent
that term, and feel that they and the Aussies belong to Oceania. Other
used for this part of the world are Australasia and the "ASEAN
So there's no easy answer to the
question. Just remember
that "continent" can mean different things to different people.