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World map showing the Americas
World map showing the Americas
The Americas commonly refers to the landmass in the Western Hemisphere consisting of the continents of North America and South America with their associated islands and regions.The term is a relatively recent and less ambiguous alternative to the term America, which may refer to either the entire landmass or the United States of America. The former, and original, usage is now often considered unusual in English-speaking nations but still in use in other areas, in which the Americas is often described as a single continent or supercontinent, and therefore called America (singular). When used to describe a single landmass, analogous terms to America or (the) Americas are Eurasia, which consists of Europe and Asia collectively, and Eurafrasia, which adds Africa.

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Naming of America

Naming of America - Contents

Map of America by Jonghe, c. 1770.
Map of America by Jonghe, c. 1770.
The earliest known use of the name America for the continents of the Americas dates from 1507. It appears on a globe and a large map created by the German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller in Saint-Dié-des-Vosges. An accompanying book, Cosmographiae Introductio, explains that the name was derived from the Latinized version of the explorer Amerigo Vespucci's name, Americus Vespucius, in its feminine form, America, as the other continents all have Latin feminine names. However, as Dr. Basil Cottle (Author, Dictionary of Surnames, 1967) points out, new countries or continents are never named after a person's first name, always after their second name. Thus, America should really have become Vespucci Land or Vespuccia if the Italian explorer really gave his name to the newly discovered continent. Christopher Columbus, who had first brought the continents' existence to the attention of Renaissance era voyagers, had died in 1506 (believing, to the end, that he'd discovered and conquered part of India) and could not protest Waldseemüller's decision.A few alternative theories regarding the continents' naming have been proposed, but none of them have any widespread acceptance. One alternative first proposed by a Bristol antiquary and naturalist, Alfred Hudd, was that America is derived from Richard Amerike, a merchant from Bristol, who is believed to have financed John Cabot's voyage of discovery from England to Newfoundland in 1497. Supposedly, Bristol fishermen had been visiting the coast of North America for at least a century before Columbus' voyage and Waldseemüller's maps are alleged to incorporate information from the early English journeys to North America. The theory holds that a variant of Amerike's name appeared on an early English map (of which however no copies survive) and that this was the true inspiration for Waldseemüller.Another theory, 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 Nicaragua. The gold-rich district of Amerrique was purportedly visited by both Vespucci and Columbus, for whom the name became synonymous with gold. According to Marcou, Vespucci later applied the name to the New World, and even changed the spelling of his own name from Alberigo to Amerigo to reflect the importance of the discovery.Vespucci's role in the naming issue, like his exploratory activity, is unclear and most probably a tale. Some sources say that he was unaware of the widespread use of his name to refer to the new landmass. Others hold that he promulgated a story that he had made a secret voyage westward and sighted land in 1491, a year before Columbus. If he did indeed make such claims, they backfired, and only served to prolong the ongoing debate on whether the " Indies" were really a new land, or just an extension of Asia.

Usage - Contents

CIA map of the Americas
CIA map of the Americas
Whether usage of America or the Americas is preferred, many people living in the Americas refer to themselves as American. However, most of the English-speaking world (including Canada), use the word to refer solely to a citizen or resident of the United States of America. This may be due, at least in part, to the fact that the phrase "United States" does not easily translate into an adjective or descriptive noun in English. While Spanish-speaking peoples in Latin America use the word estadounidense (literally, "United-States-ian" or "of the United States"), calling someone a "United States-man" or "United States'er" or other such constructions sound awkward in English. This has led to the use of the word "American". Nevertheless, calling a U.S. citizen simply americano or americana in Spanish is considered offensive in some areas of Latin America. Some Latin Americans, however, will use "americano" or "americana" to refer to people from the United States in colloquial speech while still considering themselves "American", just as Germans or Spaniards would consider themselves "European".

Demography - Contents

The population of the Americas is made up of the descendents of three large ethnic groups and their combinations: the native inhabitants of the Americas, being " Indians" (or "Native Americans" or "Amerindians"), Eskimos, and Aleuts; Europeans (of mainly Spanish, British, Irish, Portuguese, French, Italian, German and Dutch, origin); and black Africans. There are also more recent immigrants, such as from the Balkan, Central Europe and Central and Eastern Asia.The majority of the people live in Latin America. Most of Latin America is Spanish-speaking, with Portuguese-speaking Brazil as the major exception along with the English-speaking Belize. Canada and the United States are linguistically, culturally and economically quite different from Latin America, with the whites being more predominantly of North European ancestry.

Various languages, both European and native, are spoken in the Americas.
  • Spanish - spoken by approximately 350 million in many nations, regions, islands, and communities throughout the two continents.
  • English - spoken by approximately 320 million people in the United States, Canada, The Bahamas, Belize, Bermuda, Guyana and many islands of the Caribbean.
  • Portuguese - spoken by approximately 185 million in Brazil
  • French - spoken by approximately 7 million in Québec and 2 million in the rest of Canada; in the Caribbean, especially in Haiti; and in French Guiana.
  • Haitian Creole - creole language, based in French and various African languages, spoken by 7.8 million in Haiti.
  • Guaraní (avañe'ẽ) - native language spoken by approximately 6 million people in Paraguay, and regions of Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil.
  • Nahuatl - native language of central Mexico with 1.5 million speakers
  • Mapudungun (or Mapuche) - native language spoken by approximately 440,000 people in Chile and Argentina.
  • Cree - Cree is the name for a group of closely-related Algonquian languages spoken by approximately 50,000 speakers across Canada
  • Inuit - native language traditionally spoken across the North American Arctic and to some extent in the subarctic in Labrador.
  • Aymará - native language spoken in the Andes, especially in Bolivia.
  • Dutch - spoken in the Netherlands Antilles, Aruba, and Suriname
  • Quiché and other Maya languages - native languages spoken in Guatemala and southern Mexico.
  • Quechua - native language spoken in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and northern Chile and Argentina.
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 though, which has even resulted in completely new languages, such as Papiamentu, which is a combination of Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch (representing the respective colonisers), 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 and Canada, three very important destinations for immigrants.
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