European topographical map
Same map as above, but showing sovereign states widely accepted by the UN instead of topographies

A country is a region legally identified as a distinct entity in political geography. A country may be an independent sovereign state or one that is occupied by another state, as a non-sovereign or formerly sovereign political division, or a geographic region associated with a previously independent people with distinct political characteristics. Regardless of the physical geography, in the modern internationally accepted legal definition as defined by the League of Nations in 1937 and reaffirmed by the United Nations in 1945, a resident of a country is subject to the independent exercise of legal jurisdiction, while "Any person visiting a country, other than that in which he usually resides, for a period of at least 24 hours" is defined as a 'foreign tourist'.[1] It is not uncommon for general information or statistical publications to adopt the wider definition for purposes such as illustration and comparison.[2][3][4][5][6][7]


Etymology and usage

The word country has developed from the Late Latin contra meaning "against", used in the sense of "that which lies against, or opposite to, the view", i.e. the landscape spread out to the view. From this came the Late Latin term contrata, which became the modern Italian contrada. The term appears in the Vulgate version of Matthew 12:30 "Qui non est mecum, contra me est: et qui non congregat mihi, spargit. (He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.) In may ways this defined the agonistic world view of the early Christian identity in Europe.[8] From this new theological World view several different senses of the term developed in Middle English from the 13th century, all reflecting a sense of either opposition, or occupation.[9]

In English the word has increasingly become associated with political divisions, so that one sense, associated with the indefinite article – "a country" – is now a synonym for state, or a former sovereign state, in the sense of sovereign territory or "district, native land".[10] Areas much smaller than a political state may be called by names such as the West Country in England, the Black Country (a heavily industrialized part of England), "Constable Country" (a part of East Anglia painted by John Constable), the "big country" (used in various contexts of the American West), "coal country" (used of parts of the US and elsewhere) and many other terms.[11]

The equivalent terms in French and Romance languages (pays and variants) have not carried the process of being identified with political sovereign states as far as the English "country", instead derived from, pagus, which designated the territory controlled by a medieval count, a title originally granted by the Roman Church. In many European countries the words are used for sub-divisions of the national territory, as in the German Länder, as well as a less formal term for a sovereign state. France has very many "pays" that are officially recognised at some level, and are either natural regions, like the Pays de Bray, or reflect old political or economic unities, like the Pays de la Loire. At the same time Wales, the United States, and Brazil are also "pays" in everyday French speech.

A version of "country" can be found in the modern French language as contrée, based on the word cuntrée in Old French,[11] that is used similarly to the word "pays" to define regions and unities, but can also be used to describe a political state in some particular cases. The modern Italian contrada is a word with its meaning varying locally, but usually meaning a ward or similar small division of a town, or a village or hamlet in the countryside.

National definitions

Although not recognised as countries or sovereign states internationally, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (in the United Kingdom) are examples of entities that are regarded and referred to as countries within United Kingdom.[12][13][14][15] Former states such as Bavaria (now part of Germany) and Piedmont (now part of Italy) would not normally be referred to as "countries" in contemporary English.[citation needed] United Kingdom therefore represents a group of countries classified as federal monarchies.

The degree of autonomy of non-sovereign countries varies widely. Some are possessions of sovereign states, as several states have overseas dependencies (such as the British Virgin Islands (GBR) and Saint Pierre and Miquelon (FRA)), with citizenry at times identical and at times distinct from their own. Such dependent territories are sometimes listed together with sovereign states on lists of countries, and may be treated as a "country of origin" in international trade, as Hong Kong is.

See also


  1. ^ Bhatia, A. K., The Business of Tourism: Concepts and Strategies, Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd, 2006,
  2. ^ "Greenland Country Information". Retrieved 2008-05-28.  "The World Factbook – Rank Order – Exports". Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 2008-11-12. 
  3. ^ "Index of Economic Freedom". The Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 2008-11-12. 
  4. ^ "Index of Economic Freedom - Top 10 Countries". The Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 2008-11-12. 
  5. ^ "Asia-Pacific (Region A) Economic Information" (PDF). The Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 2008-11-12. 
  6. ^ "Subjective well-being in 97 countries" (PDF). University of Michigan. Retrieved 2008-11-12. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ John Burt Foster, Wayne Jeffrey Froman, Thresholds of western culture: identity, postcoloniality, transnationalism, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2002, p.208
  9. ^ John Simpson, Edmund Weiner, ed. "country". Oxford English Dictionary (1971 compact ed.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198611862. 
  10. ^ OED, Country
  11. ^ a b John Simpson, Edmund Weiner, ed. Oxford English Dictionary (1971 compact ed.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198611862. 
  12. ^ "Legal Research Guide: United Kingdom - Law Library of Congress (Library of Cong". Library of Congress website. Library of Congress. 2009-07-23. Retrieved 2009-09-22. "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the collective name of four countries, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The four separate countries were united under a single Parliament through a series of Acts of Union." 
  13. ^ "countries within a". 10 Downing Street website. 10 Downing Street. 2003-01-10. Retrieved 2009-09-22. "The United Kingdom is made up of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland." 
  14. ^ "Commonwealth Secretariat - Geography". Commonwealth Secretariat website. Commonwealth Secretariat. 2009-09-22. Retrieved 2009-09-22. "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) is a union of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland." 
  15. ^ "Travelling Europe - United Kingdom". European Youth Portal. European Commission. 2009-06-29. Retrieved 2009-09-22. "The United Kingdom is made up of four countries: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales." 

Further reading

External links

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