South America is a continent of the Americas, situated entirely in the Western Hemisphere and mostly in the Southern Hemisphere. It is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north and east by the Atlantic Ocean; North America and the Caribbean Sea lie to the northwest.
South America was named in 1507 by cartographers Martin Waldseemüller and Matthias Ringmann after Amerigo Vespucci, who was the first European to suggest that the Americas were not the East Indies, but a New World unknown to Europeans.
South America has an area of 17,840,000 square kilometres (6,890,000 sq mi), or almost 3.5% of the Earth's surface. As of 2005, its population was estimated at more than 371,000,000. South America ranks fourth in area (after Asia, Africa, and North America) and fifth in population (after Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America).
South America comprises the major southern portion of the landmass generally referred to as the New World, the Western Hemisphere, the Americas, or simply America (which is sometimes considered a single continent and South America a subcontinent). It is south and east of the Panama Canal, which transects the Isthmus of Panama. Geologically, almost all of mainland South America sits on the South American Plate. Geopolitically, all of Panama – including the segment east of the Panama Canal in the isthmus – is often considered a part of North America alone and among the countries of Central America.
South America is home to the world's highest waterfall, Angel Falls in Venezuela, the largest river (by volume), the Amazon River, the longest mountain range, the Andes, the driest desert, Atacama Desert, the largest rainforest, the Amazon Rainforest, the highest railroad, Ticlio Peru, the highest capital city, La Paz, Bolivia, the highest commercially navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca, and the world's southernmost town, Puerto Toro, Chile.
Spanish is the most widespread language of the continent, as Spanish is the official language of most South American nations. However, the majority of South Americans (51%) speak Portuguese, the official language of Brazil. Dutch is the official language of Suriname; English the official language of Guyana; and French the official language of French Guiana.
Indigenous languages of South America include: Quechua (in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador); Aymara (Bolivia, Chile and Peru); Guaraní (in Paraguay and Bolivia); and Mapudungun (Chile and certain pockets of Argentina).
Other languages to be found in South America include: Hindi and Indonesian in Suriname; Italian in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay,Venezuela, Colombia; German in certain pockets in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela,Colombia and Paraguay; Welsh remains spoken and written in the historic towns of Trelew and Rawson in Patagonia, Argentina; small cluster groups of Japanese speakers in Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru and Ecuador; Arabic speakers, often of Lebanese and Syrian descent, in Arab communities of Chile, Brazil and Argentina.
In some countries the continent's upper classes and well-educated people study English and French, and in areas with much tourist commerce, English and other European languages are sometimes spoken. There are small Spanish speaking areas of Southernmost Brazil, due to the proximity of Uruguay.