America. A continent with 3 subdivisions (South, Center/Caribbean and North) or 2 continents (North and South) where Panama is part of North America?

Actually the node history gives in interesting insight into “what Austalians, and other people, think ‘Australia’ and ‘Oceania’ are”. The location reflects the latter (but previously was the former) and the tagging reflects the former (but at one point was the latter) :slight_smile:


Taking a glance at Wikipedia, It becomes immediately clear there are numerous ways of dividing the world and they all seem equally arbitrary.

My expectations that the community reaching a strong majority decision on this topic is equal to my level of hope for reaching a lasting agreement on tagging for railways - dismal.

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OSM is great for determining how many of something there is in the world when there are very many of them and one can only estimate the number otherwise: how many windmills are there? How many miles of railroad track? But OSM is not as good for determining the size of a fixed set of very well-known features: how many countries, oceans, or continents?

We should continue to map these features in order to answer a different kind of question: where is this particular named feature? Even those who consider North and South America to be two continents do not dispute that America exists as a geographical concept that has a location.

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We are all Pangaea. :globe_with_meridians:

As noted here: Continent - Wikipedia “Continents are generally identified by convention rather than any strict criteria.”

If I’m correct, if there is a dispute over terminology in OSM, the British English definition of things is used. That would suggest 2 continents, with the boundary at Panama. That is not to say that Latin America doesn’t exist as a cultural entity - or that its northern boundary coincides with the border between Mexico and the USA.

Are we counting submerged continents? :thinking: :thinking:


I am aware that tagging in the OSM database is in English, and that the British variety tends to be preferred (although not always).

But I was not aware that English language concepts had some sort of systematic preference over other languages in resolving disputes, which you seem to be suggesting. Is that really the case?

If I’m correct, if there is a dispute over terminology in OSM, the British English definition of things is used.

the British English language is used (although there are some notable examples like “sidewalk” which was agreed because it was thought to create less confusion then the british pavement / footpath), but it doesn’t mean we can only map features that exist in Britain or the quite shrunk British Empire. For example what we consider a trunk road has slightly different definitions depending where on the globe you are.

We don’t have to stop at the British definition for the continents, atyl, just add a tag for your view on the continents, and map accordingly (generally, if it is not just your own personal view but shared with a lot of other people, of course, so no problem here). It is not so easy to find a term for the scope, the initial post mentioned the Spanish wikipedia, but would it be acceptable to refer to Spanish in the key?
natural:es=continent? or is there another concise term that could define the scope?

Eh, I don’t think the difference in continent classifications is purely a linguistic one. Eurasia, Europe, and Asia are all continents in British English, depending on context. So are Australia and Oceania. All these terms have multiple meanings anyways. English speakers in the UK refer to the U.S. as “America”, while Spanish speakers in the U.S. call themselves (rather than Canadians) as norteamericano/a instead of the more erudite estadounidense. The notion of the Americas as a single continent is not completely unheard of in the U.S.; it’s just somewhat obscure like Eurasia and Oceania.

Based on Wikipedia’s list of continental models we could add some new subkeys specifying which continental models a particular place=continent belongs to. Something like:


North America would be tagged:


America would be tagged:


A bit cumbersome, but would allow data consumers to choose from the different models.


My first thought would be concern about the possibility of folks confusing the models, but anyone editing subkeys for an entire continent is very likely to be an experienced mapper. Also edits to continents and their relations are watched extremely closely, perhaps even more than the Discovery Channel’s shark week programming.


Could you indicate where that rule is written?
It is quite convenient that given two points of view, one Spanish-speaking and the other English-speaking, the dispute is defined using English terminology.
There is no error in the translation from English to Spanish nor a misinterpretation of the definitions.
They are two different points of view.
The English-speaking part of the American continent teaches in its educational system that America is two continents.
And the Spanish and Portuguese speaking counterpart of the American continent teaches in their educational systems that America is a single continent with three subdivisions.
The fact that you indicate that the only and correct answer is what English speakers say is one of the reasons why I opened this same thread in Spanish.

The OSM policy on disputes is designed for geopolitical disputes, not situations where the world is simply more nuanced than a particular elementary school curriculum would teach.

I come from a country where geography education has always been shambolic. My junior high social studies teacher insisted on the existence of Yugoslavia well into the 2000s, not based on any particular ideology but rather on the outdated wall map and outdated textbooks in his underfunded classroom. My Spanish teacher wasn’t exactly working off the latest edition of the DRAE, either. I credit the worn-down, barely legible playground maps outside with instilling a sense of wonder about what wasn’t being taught.

As an educational project, the best thing we can do is to inform the public that all these notions of a continent exist in various configurations. Luckily, there’s no geopolitical dispute about what this pan-hemispheric continent would be called in English or French, or what the northern end of it would be called in Spanish or Portuguese.


Could you explain to me what a continent is?
What is the scientific branch on which OSM has based itself to take the definition of continent?

-Geology = continent is a “large area, made up of continental crust, and partly emerged, current or ancient, including its margins.”

-Geography= continent is “each of the great divisions of the emerged lands, separated from each other by oceans.”

In OpenStreetMap do we map geology or geography?
Do we map both?

Why not both, within reason? Can we not have all of these too?

If mapping all of the above would make OpenStreetMap Americana too cluttered at zoom level 0, at least it would help to balance out Europe/Europe/Europe/Europe/Europe/Europe/Europe/Europe/Europe/Europe/Europe:

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Is this story a brief explanation of what is happening with our educational system?
With all due respect, trying to explain the educational systems of 660 million people with an anecdote about a teacher who didn’t know about the demise of Yugoslavia seems incorrect,

No, of course not. I just wanted to provide a little perspective; take it as you will. My point is that, for something like continents that has multiple mainstream answers, none of them universally accepted, we don’t have to pick a side. OSM is lucky to have data consumers who will do that on our behalf.

An educational system is not wrong because it teaches things that differ from other educational systems. We are in the 21st century and the gaps in basic and secondary education have narrowed significantly.
The two educational systems have their premises and are correct, but that is not the debate I wanted to create.
What I want to know is how to reach a solution and make both parties satisfied?
If you ask me I would say that the only way I would see America as 2 continents is if the Pacific Ocean joins the Caribbean Sea, but I would be unaware that my counterpart who learned that America is two continents.
Two different points of view, both correct.

I haven’t read anyone suggesting otherwise in this topic. There are clearly different models of how many continents the world has and what they are called. English Wikipedia lists the different models and where they are used. Spanish Wikipedia describes them in more detail.

I suggested a rather verbose and cumbersome solution that is probably too confusing :smile:. Another possibility would be for OSM to have 11 continents representing overlapping areas:

North America
South America

Data consumers could choose to display them all, or filter out by name those that don’t make sense for their audience.


I’ve only read some of the recent threads in Spanish about this topic, but it sounds like the general sentiment is that one American continent is what they’re familiar with because that’s what they’ve been taught. This perspective is as valid as the alternative. Unlike the border situation in South Asia, for example, there’s no national law requiring maps to depict a specific number of continents, and even if there were such a law, we probably wouldn’t be bound by it.

We can have all three America nodes. To the extent that this clutters a renderer, it can be their opportunity to exercise editorial control that we shouldn’t provide. If it confuses a student, that can be a teaching moment, just as when an encyclopedia omits Pluto from the list of planets or mentions an exotic state of matter beyond the classic three. Ironically, many major commercial data consumers don’t even use OSM’s continents or countries at all, instead substituting Natural Earth, Wikidata, or their own proprietary data. No one is obligated to use 100% of OSM.

It makes me a little sad that we have these parallel threads, as if so that two groups of Americans can talk about each other instead of with each other. I thank you for pointing out that we’re missing a place=continent node for America and encourage you to contribute it to the map. I have no idea exactly where you should put it, but you probably have somewhere in mind already. I hope those who expressed dismay at the existing North and South America nodes can similarly accommodate these other two continents in a spirit of amistad.

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On the Geofabrik download server, where I try to split the world into manageable chunks, I have North/Central/South America, where the North is made up of Canada, the US, and Mexico. This is a definition that I have certainly found somewhere on Wikipedia or so - I always try to use regional splits that are somehow established, where people who haven’t spend much thought on the matter will still find regions they somehow expect. If the community in the Americas believes that this split is somehow problematic, I’m happy to change it.


My goal in opening 2 threads, Spanish and English, was to get the points of view of people with different languages.
Sometimes it is simply not possible to have all the opinions in one place because some would feel intimidated to give an opinion in a language other than their native one.
I have promoted debate in Spanish in other spaces related to OSM.
If this thread had only been opened in Spanish, most of those who have written here would not have participated. And if it had only been opened in English, Spanish speakers would not have participated.
The feeling of sadness is mutual, It is not a commitment to a single point of view, I wanted to promote debate about something that concerns all the inhabitants of America since it is closely related to the education we have received, and each supported by duly supported arguments.

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