Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles When I say the word 'America', what does that mean to you? If, like me, your native language is English this might seem like an obvious question. America is right here, the country. However, some people would strongly disagree with this: particularly those from South America. To South Americans, America is not a country but a continent. This is America, right here. While English speakers would say those are 2 continents - North America and South America (collectively 'The Americas'), Spanish and Portuguese speakers refer to it as one continent: America. Of course it's not just South Americans who view the continents this way. France also agrees on the six-continent view of world. This can be seen by the 5 rings of the Olympics, which represents the 5 inhabited continents of the world (ie - not Antarctica). Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and America. And recently I've been seen a lot of arguing over this very issue in the comments section. For starters, how about we look at the history of the Americas and where the name 'America' actually came from. So, as we all know, Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492... right? Well, no, actually. People had been living on the American continents for more than 10,000 years before Columbus supposedly 'discovered' them. Historians believe that earliest settlers in the Americas walked from Asia during the last ice when Alaska and Siberia were connected by a land bridge, before splitting into separate continents. So for thousands of years there were people living in Europe and people were living in the Americas, but neither people knew about the other. Europe, Africa and Asia, or if you prefer - Afro-Eurasia, the supercontinent, was thought of as the whole world, which can be seen from early world maps. OK, so Christopher Columbus didn't "discover" America, but he was the first European there, right? Well, once again, no, actually. Icelandic vikings settled on the east coast of Canada in what is today Newfoundland, nearly 500 years before the voyages of Columbus. It's ironic, the 2 things Christopher Columbus is famous for, discovering America and being the first to suggest the Earth was round, both have one thing key thing is common... they're not actually true. It was suggested the Earth was round as early as the 6th century BC, by Pythagoras. And later studied Plato and Aristotle. All educated people of Columbus' time knew the Earth was round and not flat. The circumference of the Earth is around 40,000 kilometres, and this was known by people in Columbus' time, because it was calculated around 240 BC, with surprising accuracy. However, Columbus was convinced that the Earth was much smaller than this and when he set out on his first voyage, he wasn't trying to discover new land but to find a better trade route to India because the current land route had become more difficult due to the rise of the Ottoman Empire. He thought he could sail west from Spain and reach India in just a few weeks, thus avoiding the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East. People didn't doubt Columbus because they thought the Earth was flat, but because they knew the actual size of the Earth and knew India was too far away to sail to. Had the Americas not existed, Columbus and his team would've died long before getting anywhere near Asia as they'd have run out of supplies. 5 weeks after setting off for India, his team reach the Bahamas. However, instead of realising he was in previously unknown land, Columbus thought he had arrived in Japan. He also explored Cuba which is assumed was China. Columbus named the Caribbean islands the 'West Indies' since he thought he was near India. The Bahamas was already occupied by indigenous people, which Columbus referred to as 'Indians'. This is why Native Americans are also called 'American-Indians' even though they're not actually from India, but because Columbus incorrectly referred to indigenous peoples of the Americas as 'Indians' and the name just sort-of stuck. While Christopher Columbus may not have discovered the Americas, nor was he the first European there. But what he was the first to do was to bring the Americas to the attention of Europe, which lead to the European colonization of the Americas, albeit thinking he had been to East Asia. He died in 1506 never realising where he had actually been. Between 1497 and 1504, Amerigo Vespucci made several voyages to the West Indies and South America, and correctly concluded that it was not east Asia, but a previously unknown continent, which he referred to as the New World, while Afro-Eurasia was therefore the Old World. The New World was thought of as the 4th continent, though little was known about North America at this point. The first ever use of the word 'America' was in 1507 by a German cartographer who named the new continent America after Amerigo Vespucci who was the first to recognise it as a new continent. In his world map, he depicted South America and small parts of Central America with the word 'America' written on South America. This is why South Americans may be offended by the use of the word 'America' to mean the USA, since its earliest usage was used to refer to just South America. Amerigo Vespucci died in 1512 never knowing that an entire continent was named after him. As time went on, and more and more of the American continent was explored, world maps began to evolve. In 1527, South America was shaping up nicely while the east coast of North America was starting to take shape. Although there was no use if the word America in this map. This was the first map to use America to refer to North America as well as South America. At first glance it's hard to see what's going on. But if you tilt your head to the left you can see all the continents. By 1569 the world was starting to look right, although this map also has no mention of America, and the Americas are labelled 'India Nova' - or 'New Indies'. And in one of the many, many written Latin words, which some wonderful human-being has translated into English, the cartographer refers to 3 distinct continents: the Old World, which he didn't specifically name but simply referred to as the place where "the human race was created and whence it spread, by multiplying over all the face of the earth"; the New Indies; and the "Southern parts" - ie, Antarctica. 1 year later and this map was published. Unsure of what to call the Americas, the cartographer simply opted writing "America or New Indies", not sure on what the general consensus was when referring to the New World. In 1595, the name America still hadn't stuck, but this was the first world map to have different colours for the continents. And America (or the New Indies) are both yellow and therefore considered as one. Fast forward to 1606 and a very significant map in American history as this was the first map to have North America and South America, and for the first time were considered 2 separate continents. Here we can see the words "AMERICA SEPTENTRIONALIS" which is Latin for, well... North America. Then we can see "AMERICA MERIDIONALIS", which means... well I'll let you figure that one out. By 1794 we had what is possibly the first accurate world map. North America and South America had now been clearly established as 2 separate continents as they're now shown in different colours. So, the term America was originally used for just South America, then both the Americas, but then was split into North and South America. Although many countries around the world prefer the original meaning and still view America as one continent. In Spanish, the country in question can really only be referred to by one name: los Estatod Unidos, Spanish for "the Untied States". While in English there are several ways to refer to the country, the most common of which is 'America'. I can understand why South Americans may be offended by this, but I think there seems to be some misconception the US are naming themselves after a continent, and they think no-one else matters and that's really not the case. Or that everyone who calls the country America is ignorant and again that's simply not true. And this probably stems from the fact that, internationally, they're not exactly the most popular country in the world. But allow me to explain why I think the country is referred to as 'America'. First of all, there are 35 countries in the Americas, if you include the Caribbean, and only 1 of which has the word 'America' in it's name: the United States of America. Although the same can't be said for "los Estatdos Unidos". South Americans referring to the country this way may be considered offensive to their fellow Spanish-speaking nation, Mexico. Believe it or not, Mexico's official name is: los Estados Unidos Mexicanos. Translated as "the United Mexican States". It's not so bad in English since the words 'united' and 'states' are split up due to the different grammatical structures of the languages. But still, even though no other country in the world has 'united states' in their name today, several have throughout recent history, including: the United States of Belgium, the Republic of the United States of Brazil, the United States of Colombia, the United States of Indonesia and the United States of Venezuela. The last 2 of which only ceased to exist around 60 years ago. So I really don't think 'the United States' is a better way to refer to the country. On top of this, the USA was the first country in the Americas to become an independent nation, free from their European colonial master. The 13 colonies of British America broke away from the British Empire and declared itself independent in 1776 which lead to the American Revolutionary War. Therefore, the 13 colonies of British America became the United States of America. So really, you could blame Britain for the use of 'America' in their name. However, I think the single biggest reason 'America' has become a term for the USA is because of the demonym of the country. Citizens of the US are called 'Americans'. And the reason for this is simply... what's the alternative? I mean seriously, what else can you use? United Staters? I don't think so. In English, 'American' is literally the only logical word to describe US citizens. Now, in Spanish, there's no such issue, they have the word "estadounidense". And that's fine... in Spanish. Unfortunately the literal translation of this is, uh... "United Statesian". Which is just... so wrong on just about every level and doesn't even make grammatical sense. Now, in Spanish they also have the word 'americano' which is used to refer to all people from the American continent. This is where the confusion comes from,americano obviously translates to 'American', but they have totally different meanings. I think the only way to address this issue, is people learning a foreign language need to be taught words for their correct context and not simply the literal translation, as well as being taught the way the different languages views the continents. Therefore, 'americano' should not translated to 'American'. Although there really isn't anything it can be translated to, since there is not continent called 'America' in English. Still, it's not very common to refer to where you're from as a continent. I mean, I'm from Europe but never once have I referred to myself as European. Although on saying that the UK does love to pretend it's not part of Europe. But despite this, South Americans do consider themselves Americans, although I don't really see why. If you're from, let's say, Bolivia, you should be proud of that fact you're Bolivian. Because if you say you're American it implies that you're not. The US aside though , there is one other country that would strongly object to the term American being used to mean everyone in the Americas: Canada. I can assure you if that if someone from Argentina who speaks English went to Canada and referred to locals as 'Americans', the friendliest people in the world would become significantly less friendly to said individual. Canadians hate being mistaken for Americans and given that their accents sound similar to those not from North America, most Canadians probably have been mistaken for American while abroad. And unfortunately, there are some incredibly ignorant people who probably think Canada is part of the USA... which I can totally sympathize with given that on several occasions after saying to people I'm Scottish, they think it's part of England. But I digress... Although speaking of Cananda, Canada is probably the only English-speaking country that would perhaps not refer to their southern neighbour as 'America' and instead opt for using "the States" or "the US". While on the subject of North America, the Spanish word 'notreamericano', which means 'North American', is another word Latin Americans sometimes use to refer to citizens of the USA. Dictionary.com defines the word to mean 'citizens or inhabitants of the US' and Urban dictionary.com says it's a 'more politically correct way of saying "from the United States"'. But hold on a second, that's a little hypocritical, "americano" is not an acceptable term for people from the US, but "norteamericano" is? I can think of about 150 millions people who may find THAT offensive. There's more to North America than just the USA. And if you're wondering why I didn't extend the offensive south of Mexico, it's because North America means different things in English and Spanish. In English, it's a continent, made up of 10 main-land countries. But in Spanish, it's a subcontinent of America consisting of just Canada, the US and Mexico. Within the English and Spanish languages, there really is no ambiguity at all. It's only when we speak each others' languages that there becomes an issue. However, in other languages, such as German and Dutch, ambiguity exists because 'Amerika' can mean both the country or the continent. In German, some people use the term 'US-Americans' to refer to people from the US, to avoid ambiguity. And maybe this sounds OK in German, but in English it just sounds... wrong. The term 'American' is used officially used by the United Nations and is considered the correct way to refer to people from the United States. So... is America a country or a continent? Well, the short answer is... both. And the long answer is that it really depends on what language you're speaking. "America" can mean different things in different languages, in English, it can really only refer to the country, whereas in some languages (such as Spainish) it can only refer to the continent, and there's ambiguity in other languages as it can refer to either. I think the only way to stop the arguements and ambiguity is simply... respect the language you're speaking. What I mean by this is that you should adopt that languages' continental view of the world and correct use of words. For example, an American in South America should avoid using 'americano' to mean just people from the US and definitely avoid using 'America' to mean the country they're from. Likewise, South Americans should not call themselves as American when speaking English, or say 'America' to refer to the continent, because in English no such continent exists. So... to sum up: in English, this is America here, the country, and its people are American. Shown are 2 separate continents: North America and South America, collectively the Americas, plural. In Spanish, this is America here, the continent, made up of 3 sub-continents: north america, central america and south america. The country in question is los Estados Unidos and its people are 'estadounidense'. Thanks for watching!