5

I found both 大州 and 大陸 in this sentence, I looked them up on Jisho and I see they both mean "continent". Is there any difference between them? Are they interchangeable?

アフリカは六大州の一つで、ヨーロッパの南方に位置する大陸です。

7

六大州 is the name for "The Six Continents". The difference between 大州 and 大陸 is maybe best illustrated by an example:

大州: (例) ヨーロッパ州 = 欧州 = Europe
大陸: (例) ヨーロッパ大陸 = Continental Europe = mainland Europe

Strictly speaking (according to Wikipedia), the difference is that the 大州 includes surrounding islands, whereas 大陸 refers to the main landmass of a continent.

This is consistent with the fact that the continents themselves are referred to as 〇〇州 and their mainlands can be referred to as 〇〇大陸.

The sentence would appear to be more correct if it said

アフリカは[六大州]{ろくだいしゅう}の一つで、ヨーロッパの南方に位置する大州【たいしゅう】です。

However, even monolingual dictionaries such as 大辞泉 or 大辞林 don't note this difference, so it appears that 大州 is not really used as an individual word and 大陸 is used for "continent" in both senses. (The same is true in English, I think.)

4

The two words are conceptually very different (I'm surprised they share the same word in English, honestly).

  • 大州: one of the geographic divisions where lands on the Earth belongs to any of them
  • 大陸: a relatively big continuous landmass (bigger than Greenland)

If you find the above not enough clear, try think about Oceania. Oceania (オセアニア) is a 大州, but not a 大陸, because it mostly consists of reefs and volcanic islands. What is 大陸 is only Australia.

You could refer to dictionaries for how we count five "continents" of each:

五大州
アジア州・ヨーロッパ州・アフリカ州・アメリカ州・オセアニア州

五大陸
ユーラシア大陸・アフリカ大陸・南北アメリカ大陸・オーストラリア大陸・南極大陸

  • I share your surprise about English not differentiating these two concepts. However, in the Balanced Corpus of Contemporary Written Japanese, I only find one 8 results, of which only 1 uses 大州 is the sense of "continent" (not counting what seems to be a fixed phrase 五大州 and 大州【おおず?】, probably a place name). 大陸 on the other hand has 2872 (too many to filter out false positives). Together with the fact that 大州 doesn't have its own entry in monolingual dictionaries, it appears that Japanese, too, doesn't really differentiate 大州 and 大陸, even though it quite clearly differentiates 〇〇州 and 〇〇大陸. – Earthliŋ Dec 1 '16 at 9:04
  • 1
    @Earthliŋ I understand your concern. Yes, we simply use ~州 to make compounds, but the concept that can be embodied by the word 大州 exists and it is different (irrelevant) from 大陸. There is another word 累代 for geological eon, but we simply use ~代 (alone would mean era) for individual names e.g. 顕生代 (Phanerozoic), 原生代 (Proterozoic). That doesn't mean they can't tell era and eon. It's a matter of euphonism. It may be true that the first kanji is secondary, but I think it's the same thing with "chemical" in "chemical element" is omissible. – broccoli forest Dec 1 '16 at 9:35
  • FYI no J-J dictionary (except WP if it counts) on the internet seems to have the definition eon (of geology) for 累代 and all occurrences in BCCWJ are false positive (meaning "generation to generation"). – broccoli forest Dec 1 '16 at 9:39
  • Thank you for your comments. So I take it, I can use 大州 without raising eyebrows, then. – Earthliŋ Dec 1 '16 at 9:45
  • @Earthliŋ For that matter, you have nothing to worry :) – broccoli forest Dec 1 '16 at 9:49

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