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The Americas, or America, are the lands of the Western hemispheremarker or New World, comprising the continents of North America and South America with their associated islands and regions. America may be ambiguous in English, as it is more commonly used to refer to the United States of Americamarker. The Americas cover 8.3% of the Earth's total surface area (28.4% of its land area) and contain about 13.5% of the human population (about 900 million people).



South America broke off from the west of the supercontinent Gondwanaland around 135 million years ago (Ma), forming its own continent. Starting around 15 Ma, the collision of the Caribbean Plate and the Pacific Plate resulted in a series of volcanoes along the border that created a number of islands. The gaps in the archipelago of Central America filled in with material eroded off North America and South America, plus new land created by continued volcanism. By 3 Ma, the continents of North America and South America were linked by the Isthmus of Panama, thereby forming the single landmass of the Americas.


Humans crossed the Bering land bridge comparatively late in prehistory. Discoveries in Siberiamarker's Altai Mountainsmarker have led some anthropologists to theorise that humans were largely prevented from crossing to Alaska due to large numbers of spotted hyenas. Archaeological finds establish the widespread presence of the Clovis culture in North America and South America around 10,000 BCE. Whether this is the first migration of humans into North America and South America is disputed, with alternative theories holding that humans arrived in North America and South America as early as around 40,000 BCE.

The Inuit migrated into the Arctic section of North America in another wave of migration, arriving around 1000 CE. Around the same time as the Inuit migrated into North America, Viking settlers began arriving in Greenlandmarker in 982 and Vinland shortly thereafter. The Viking settlers quickly abandoned Vinland, and disappeared from Greenland by 1500.

Large-scale European colonization of the Americas began shortly after the voyages of Christopher Columbus starting in 1492. The spread of new diseases brought by Europeans and Africans killed most of the inhabitants of North America and South America, with a general population crash of Native Americans occurring in the mid-sixteenth century, often well ahead of European contact. Native peoples and European colonizers came into widespread conflict, resulting in what David Stannard has called a genocide of the indigenous populations.Staff. A review of American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World (by David Stannard), on the website of the Oxford University Press (the publishers) Early European immigrants were often part of state-sponsored attempts to found colonies in the Americas. Migration continued as people moved to the Americas fleeing religious persecution or seeking economic opportunities. Millions of individuals were forcibly transported to the Americas as slaves, prisoners or indentured servants.


The earliest known use of the name America for this particular landmass dates from April 25, 1507. It appears first on a small globe map with twelve time zones, and then a large wall map created by the Germanmarker cartographer Martin Waldseemüller in Saint-Dié-des-Vosgesmarker in France. An accompanying book, Cosmographiae Introductio, explains that the name was derived from the Latinized version of the Florentinemarker explorer Amerigo Vespucci's name, Americus Vespucius, in its feminine form, America, as the other continents all have feminine names.

Vespucci's role in the naming issue, like his exploratory activity, is unclear. Some sources say that he was unaware of the widespread use of his name to refer to the new landmass. Waldseemüller may have been misled by the Soderini Letter, claimed by some to be a forgery, which implies that it was discovered first by Amerigo Vespucci. Christopher Columbus, who had first brought the region's existence to the attention of Renaissance era voyagers, had died in 1506 (believing, to the end, that he had discovered and colonized the Indies he had set out looking for) and could not protest Waldseemüller's decision.

Map of America by Jonghe, c.
An alternate proposal, first advanced by Jules Marcou in 1875 and later recounted by novelist Jan Carew, is that the name America derives from the district of Amerrique in Nicaraguamarker. The gold-rich district of Amerrique was purportedly visited by both Vespucci and Columbus, for whom the name became synonymous with gold.Another theory, first proposed by a Bristolmarker antiquary and naturalist, Alfred Hudd, in 1908 was that America is derived from Richard Amerike (Richard ap Meurig), a Bristol merchant of Welsh descent, who is believed to have financed John Cabot's voyage of discovery from Englandmarker to Newfoundlandmarker in 1497.



The northernmost point of the Americas is Kaffeklubben Islandmarker, which is the northernmost point of land on Earth. The southernmost point is the islands of Southern Thulemarker, although they are sometimes considered part of Antarcticamarker. The easternmost point is Nordostrundingenmarker. The westernmost point is Attu Islandmarker.

The mainland of the Americas is the longest north-to-south landmass on Earth. At its longest, it stretches roughly 14,000 kilometres, (just under 8700 miles) from the Boothia Peninsulamarker in northern Canada to Cape Froward in Chilean Patagonia. The westernmost point of the mainland of the Americas is the end of the Seward Peninsulamarker in Alaska, while Ponta do Seixasmarker in northeastern Brazil forms the mainland's easternmost extremity.


The western geography of the Americas is dominated by the American cordilleramarker, with the Andes running along the west coast of South America and the Rocky Mountains and other Pacific Coast Ranges running the western side of North America. The 2300 km long (1429 mile long) Appalachian Mountainsmarker run along the east coast of North America from Alabamamarker to Newfoundlandmarker. North of the Appalachians, the Arctic Cordillera runs along the eastern coast of Canada.

Between its coastal mountain ranges, North America has vast flat areas. The Interior Plains spread over much of the continent with low relief. The Canadian Shield covers almost 5 million km² of North America and is generally quite flat. Similarly, the north-east of South America is covered by the flat Amazon Basin. The Brazilian Highlands on the east coast are fairly smooth but show some variations in landform, while further south the Gran Chaco and Pampasmarker are broad lowlands.


With coastal mountains and interior plains, the Americas have several large river basins that drain the continents. The largest river basin in South America is that of the Amazon, which has the highest volume flow of any river on Earth. The largest river basin in North America is that of the Mississippi, covering the second largest watershed on the planet. The second largest watershed of South America is that of the Paraná Rivermarker, which covers about 2.5 million km².



The total population of the Americas is 858,000,000 people per the United Nations' Population and Vital Statistics Report, and is divided as follows:
  • North America: 2001 with 495 million and in 2002 with 501 million (includes Central America and Hawaiimarker)
  • South America: 2001 with 352 million and in 2002 with 357 million

See also:


The population of the Americas is made up of the descendants of seven large ethnic groups and their combinations.

The majority of the population live in Latin America, named for its predominant cultures whose roots lie in Latin Europe (including the two dominant languages, Spanish and Portuguese, both neolatin), more specifically in the Iberianmarker nations of Portugalmarker and Spainmarker (hence the use of the term Ibero-America as a synonym). Latin America is typically contrasted with Anglo-America (where English, a Germanic language, is prevalent) which comprises Canadamarker (with the exception of francophone Canada rooted in Latin Europe (Francemarker): see Québecmarker and Acadia) and the United Statesmarker. Both are located in North America and present predominantly Anglo-Saxon and Germanic roots.


The most prevalent faiths in the Americas are as follows:
  • Christianity (North America: 85 percent; South America: 93 percent)
    • Roman Catholicism (practiced by 89 percent of the Mexican population; approximately 74 percent of the population of Brazil, whose Roman Catholic population of 182 million is the greatest of any nation's; approximately 24 percent of the United States population; and more than 40 percent of all of Canadians)
    • Protestantism (practiced mostly in United States, where half of the population are Protestant, and Canada, with slightly more than a quarter of the population; there is a growing contingent of Evangelical and Pentecostal movements in predominantly Catholic Latin America)
    • Eastern Orthodoxy (found mostly in the United States and Canada— 1 percent of the US citizenry; this Christian group is growing faster than many other Christian groups in Canada and now represents roughly 3 percent of the Canadian population)
    • Other Christians and non-denominational Christians (some 1,000 different Christian denominations and sects practiced in the Americas)
  • Irreligion (includes atheists and agnostics, as well as those who profess some form of spirituality but do not identify themselves as members of any organized religion)
  • Judaism (practiced by 2 percent of North Americans—approximately 2.5 percent of the U.S. population and 1.2 percent of Canadians; 0.23 percent of Latin Americans—Argentinamarker has the largest Jewish communities in Latin America with 200,000 members)
  • Islam (2 percent of Canadians (580,000 persons), 0.6% percent of the U.S. population (1,820,000 persons), and 0.2% of Mexicans (<250,000 persons).="" Together,="" Muslims="" constitute="" approximately="" 0.5%="" of="" the="" North="" American="" population.="" cities="" with="" high="" concentrations="" include="" Toronto, Philadelphiamarker, Detroitmarker, and New York Citymarker.; 0.3 percent of all Latin Americans)

Other faiths include Sikhism; Buddhism; Hinduism; Bahá'í; a wide variety of indigenous religions, many of which can be categorized as animistic; and many African and afro-derived religions. Syncretic faiths can also be found throughout the continent.


Languages spoken in the Americas
Various languages are spoken in the Americas. Some are of European origin, others are spoken by indigenous peoples or are the mixture of various idioms like the different creoles.

The dominant language of Latin America is Spanish, though the largest nation in Latin America, Brazilmarker, speaks Portuguese. Small enclaves of French- and English-speaking regions also exist in Latin America, notably in French Guianamarker and Belizemarker respectively, and Haitian Creole, of French origin, is dominant in the nation of Haitimarker. Native languages are more prominent in Latin America than in Anglo-America, with Nahuatl, Quechua, Aymara and Guaraní as the most common. Various other native languages are spoken with less frequency across both Anglo-America and Latin America. Creole languages other than Haitian Creole are also spoken in parts of Latin America.

The dominant language of Anglo-America, as the name suggests, is English. French is also official in Canadamarker, where it is the predominant language in Québecmarker and an official language in New Brunswickmarker along with English. It is also an important language in the U.S. state of Louisianamarker. Spanish has become widely spoken in parts of the United Statesmarker due to heavy immigration from Latin America. High levels of immigration in general have brought great linguistic diversity to Anglo-America, with over 300 languages known to be spoken in the United States alone, but most languages are spoken only in small enclaves and by relatively small immigrant groups.

The nations of Guyanamarker, Surinamemarker, and Belizemarker are generally considered not to fall into either Anglo-America or Latin America due to lingual differences with Latin America, geographic differences with Anglo-America, and cultural and historical differences with both regions; English is the primary language of Guyana and Belize, and Dutch is the official and written language of Suriname.

  • Spanish – spoken by approximately 310 million in many nations throughout the continent.
  • English – spoken by approximately 300 million people in the United States, Canada, Jamaicamarker, Trinidad and Tobagomarker, The Bahamasmarker, Bermudamarker, Belize, Guyana, the Falklandsmarker and many islands of the Caribbeanmarker.
  • Portuguese – spoken by approximately 185 million in South America, mostly Brazil
  • French – spoken by approximately 12 million in Canada (majority 7 million in Québec—see also Québec French), and Acadian communities in New Brunswick and Nova Scotiamarker); the Caribbean (Haiti, Guadeloupemarker, Martiniquemarker); French Guiana; the French islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelonmarker; and Acadiana (a Francophone area in southern Louisiana, United States).
  • Quechua – native language spoken by 10–13 million speakers in Ecuadormarker, Perumarker, Boliviamarker, northern Chilemarker, and northwest Argentinamarker.
  • Haitian Creole – creole language, based in French and various African languages, spoken by 6 million in Haiti and the Haitian Diaspora in Canada and the United States.
  • Guaraní (avañe'ẽ) – native language spoken by approximately 6 million people in Paraguaymarker, and regions of Argentinamarker, Boliviamarker, and Brazil.
  • Chinese languages are spoken by at least 5 million people living mostly in the United States, Canada, Peru and Panama.
  • Italian – spoken by approximately 4 million people, mostly New Englandmarker / Mid-Atlantic in the United States, southern Ontario and Quebec in Canada, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, and also includes pidgin dialects of Italian such as Talian (Brazil), and Chipilo (Mexico).
  • German – Some 2.2 million. Spoken by 1.1 million people in the United States plus another million in parts of Latin America, such as Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Paraguay.
  • Aymara – native language spoken by about 2.2 million speakers in the Andes, in Bolivia, Peru and Chile.
  • Quiché and other Maya languages – native languages spoken by about 1.9 million speakers in Guatemalamarker and southern Mexicomarker.
  • Nahuatl – native language of central Mexico with 1.5 million speakers. Also was the language of the Aztec People of Mexico.
  • Antillean Creole – spoken by approximately 1.2 million in the Eastern Caribbean (Guadeloupe, Martinique, Dominicamarker, Saint Luciamarker) and French Guiana.
  • Javanese is a major language in Surinamemarker
  • Tagalog has been present in the continent since the Spanish empire. It is now spoken by 1.5 million people mostly living in the United States and Canada.
  • Vietnamese is spoken by 1 million recent immigrants to the United States.
  • Various Indian languages such as Hindi and Punjabi are spoken by Indo-Caribbeans and have large populations in the United States and Canada.
  • Korean has recently become a major language in the United States with about 1 million speakers.
  • Japanese was once a major minority language in the United States but has recently dwindled in terms of population. Also found in Brazil and Peru.
  • Hmong is an indigenous language in Southeast Asia, whose largest number of speakers outside Asia is in the United States
  • American Sign Language – An estimated 100,000–500,000 people within the Deaf Community use ASL as their primary language in the United States and Canada.
  • Mapudungun (or Mapuche) – native language spoken by approximately 440,000 people in Chilemarker and Argentina.
  • Navajo – native language spoken by about 178,000 speakers in the Southwest U.S. on the Navajo Nation (Indian reservation). The tribe's isolation until the early 1900s provided a language used in a military code in World War II.
  • Dutch – spoken in the Netherlands Antillesmarker, Arubamarker, and Surinamemarker by about 210,000 speakers.
  • Miskito – Spoken by up over 180,000 Miskitos. They are Indigenous people who inhabit the Caribbean coast of Nicaraguamarker and the easternmost region of Hondurasmarker.
  • Pennsylvania Dutch – Some descendants of the Pennsylvania Dutch in the Northeast U.S. speak a local form of the German language which dates back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They number about 85,000.
  • Inuit – native language spoken by about 75,000 across the North American Arctic and to some extent in the subarctic in Labrador.
  • Danish – and Greenlandic (Inuit) are the official languages of Greenland; most of the population speak both of the languages (approximately 50,000 people). A minority of Danish migrants with no Inuit ancestry speak Danish as their first, or only, language.
  • Cree – Cree is the name for a group of closely-related Algonquian languages spoken by approximately 50,000 speakers across Canada.
  • Nicaraguan Creole – Spoken in Nicaragua by up to 30,000 people. It is spoken primarily by persons of African, Amerindian, and European descent on the Caribbean Coast.
  • Garífuna (or Garinagu) - native language spoken by the Garífuna people who inhabits parts of the caribbean coast of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. The vast majority of them live in Honduras.
  • Welsh – In Argentina, two towns of Trelew and Rawson were settled by Welsh immigrants in the late nineteenth century and the Welsh language remains spoken by about 25,000, including the towns' older residents.
  • Cherokee – native language spoken in a small corner of Oklahomamarker, U.S. by about 19,000 speakers. The use of this language has rebounded in the late twentieth century. It is known to possess its own alphabet, the Cherokee syllabary.
  • Gullah – a creole language based on English with strong influences from West and Central African languages spoken by the Gullah people, an African American population living on the coastal region of the U.S. states of South Carolinamarker and Georgiamarker.
  • Sranan Tongo, also known as Taki Taki, is the most used spoken language of Surinamemarker. It is not usually used in its written form. It is a creole language based on Spanish, English, Dutch, Hindustani, and various other languages.

Most of the non-native languages have, to different degrees, evolved differently from the mother country, but are usually still mutually intelligible. Some have combined, however, which has even resulted in completely new languages, such as Papiamentu, which is a combination of Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch (representing the respective colonizers), native Arawak, various African languages, and, more recently, English. Because of immigration, there are many communities where other languages are spoken from all parts of the world, especially in the United States, Brazil, Argentina, and Canada, four very important destinations for immigrants.



In many parts of the world, America in the singular is commonly used as a name for the United States of America; however, (the) Americas (plural with s and generally with the definite article) invariably refers to the lands and regions of the Western hemisphere. Usage of America to also refer to this collectivity remains fairly common; for example, the International Olympic Committeemarker reckons America as one of the five inhabited continents, which is depicted in the Olympic logo.

While many in the United States of America and other countries generally refer to the country as America and US residents/citizens as Americans, many people elsewhere in the Americas resent what they perceive as misappropriation of the term in this context and, thus, this usage is frequently avoided. In Canada, their southern neighbor is seldom referred to as "America", with the United States, the U.S., or (informally) the States used instead. English dictionaries and compendiums differ regarding usage and rendition.


English usage

Whether usage of America or the Americas is preferred, American is a self-referential term for many people living in the Americas. However, much of the English-speaking world uses the word to refer solely to a citizen, resident, or national of the United States of America. Instead, the word pan-American is sometimes used as an unambiguous adjective to refer to the Americas.

In addition, many Canadians resent being referred to as Americans because of mistaken assumptions that they are U.S. citizens or an inability—particularly of people overseas—to distinguish Canadian English and American English accents.

Spanish usage

In Spanish, América is the name of a region considered a single continent composed of the subcontinents of Sudamérica and Norteamérica, the land bridge of Centroamérica, and the islands of the Antillas. Americano/a in Spanish refers to a person from América in a similar way that europeo or europea refers to a person from Europa. The terms sudamericano/a, centroamericano/a, antillano/a and norteamericano/a can be used to more specifically refer to the location where a person may live.

Citizens of the United States of America are normally referred to by the term estadounidense instead of americano or americana, and the country's name itself is often translated as Estados Unidos de Norteamérica. Also, the term norteamericano may refer to a citizen of the United States. This term is primarily used to refer to citizens of the United States, rarely those of other North American countries.

Portuguese usage

In Portuguese, the word americano refers to the whole of the Americas. But, in Brazil and Portugal, it is widely used to refer to the citizens of the United States. The least ambiguous term, estadunidense (used in Brazil), something like "United Statian" or "estadounidense" in Spanish language), and "ianque"—the Portuguese version of "Yankee"—are rarely used.América, however, is rarely used as synonym to the country, and almost never in print and in more formal environments, where the US is called either Estados Unidos da América (i.e. United States of America) or simply Estados Unidos (i.e. United States). There is some difference between the usage of these words in Portugal and in Brazil, with the Portuguese being more prone to apply the term América to the country.

French usage

In French, as in English, the word Américain can be confusing as it can be used to refer either to the United States, or to the American continents.

The noun Amérique sometimes refers to the whole as one continent, and sometimes two continents, southern and northern; the United States is generally referred to as les États-Unis d'Amérique, les États-Unis, or les USA. However, the usage of Amérique to refer to the United States, while technically not correct, does still have some currency in France.

The adjective américain is most often used for things relating to the United States; however, it may also be used for things relating to the American continents. Books by United States authors translated from English are often described as "traduit de l'américain".

Things relating to the United States can be referred to without ambiguity by the words états-unien, étasunien, or étatsunien, although their usage is rare.

Dutch usage

In Dutch, the word Amerika mostly refers to the United States. Although the United States is equally often referred to as de Verenigde Staten or de VS, Amerika relatively rarely refers to the Americas, but it is the only commonly used Dutch word for the Americas. This often leads to ambiguity and to stress that something concerns the Americas as a whole, Dutch uses a combination, namely Noord- en Zuid Amerika (North and South America).

Latin America is generally referred to as Latijns Amerika or, less frequently, Zuid Amerika (South America).

The adjective amerikaans is most often used for things or people relating to the United States. There are no alternative words to distinguish between things relating to the United States or to the Americas. Dutch uses the local alternative for things relating to elsewhere in the Americas, such as Argentijns for Argentinian etc.

Russian usage

In the 19th century in Russia the word "America" was used for a traditional continent such as Europe and Asia. In the 20th century these traditional continents are known as "parts of the world". Now the term "continent" means any of six large continuous landmasses (Eurasia, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica, and Australia). Now the word Ameriсa refers to the United States more often than to America as a "part of the world". There is no term equivalent to "Americas" in Russian.

Countries and territories

Map showing the dates of independence of the countries of the Americas.
Black shows areas not independent.

Sovereign states

There are 35 sovereign states in the Americas, 23 in North America and 12 in South America:

Overseas regions and dependencies

Multinational organizations in the Americas

See also


  1. america - Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved on January 27, 2008.
  2. america. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. (accessed: January 27, 2008).
  3. "America." The Oxford Companion to the English Language (ISBN 0-19-214183-X). McArthur, Tom, ed., 1992. New York: Oxford University Press, p. 33: "[16c: from the feminine of Americus, the Latinized first name of the explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1454-1512). A claim is also made for the name of Richard Ameryk, sheriff of Bristol and patron of John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto), the 16c Anglo-Italian explorer of North America. The name America first appeared on a map in 1507 by the German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller, referring to the area now called Brazil]. Since the 16c, a name of the western hemisphere, often in the plural Americas and more or less synonymous with the New World. Since the 18c, a name of the United States of America. The second sense is now primary in English: ... However, the term is open to uncertainties: ..."
  4. Scientist: Hyenas May Have Hunted People. Oversized Hyenas May Have Delayed Human Arrival in North America
  5. Cartographer put 'America' on the map 500 years ago -
  7. CBC Montreal - Religion
  8. International Religious Freedom Report, U.S. Department of State. Retrieved on 2008-06-08.
  9. CIA - The World Factbook - United States
  10. The Daily, Tuesday, May 13, 2003. Census of Population: Income of individuals, families and households; religion
  11. The World Today - Catholics faced with rise in Protestantism
  12. Canadian Jewry Today: Portrait of a Community in the Process of Change - Ira Robinson
  13. First Planeload of Jews Fleeing Argentina Arrives in Israel
  14. Population by religion, by province and territory (2001 Census)
  15. Islam and Christianity: Islam in Mexico
  16. Chile National Census 2002, figures cited in Bilingüismo y el registro matemático aymara
  17. Chile profile, Ethnologue, retrieved October 10th, 2007
  18. Reader's Digest Oxford Complete Wordfinder. 1993. (ISBN 0-27-642101-9) New York, USA: Reader's Digest Association; p. 45.
  19. The Olympic symbols. International Olympic Committee. 2002. Lausanne: Olympic Museum and Studies Centre. The five rings of the Olympic flag represent the five inhabited, participating continents ( Africa, America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania).
  20. Burchfield, R. W. 2004. Fowler's Modern English Usage. (ISBN 0-19-861021-1) Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press; p. 48.
  21. "Uso abusivo", numeral 4
  22. "American." The Oxford Companion to the English Language (ISBN 0-19-214183-X); McArthur, Tom, ed., 1992. New York: Oxford University Press, p. 35.
  23. "America." Oxford Guide to Canadian English Usage. (ISBN 0-19-541619-8) Fee, Margery and McAlpine, J., ed., 1997. Toronto: Oxford University Press; p. 36.
  24. " America." Microsoft Encarta Dictionary. 2007. Microsoft. Archived 2009-10-31.
  25. America - Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
  26. America - Definitions from
  27. [1]
  28. Diccionario Panhispánico de Dudas:Norteamérica


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