The United States is a huge country. It spans an entire continent from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west. Its geographic area occupies 3.794 million square miles. That’s a lot!
It is not surprising that the country is often divided into regions when we talk about economics, weather, language mannerisms and so on. The US Census Bureau, which is responsible for counting population and tracking demographics, officially divides the nation into four major regions. The region names are easy to remember because they use map directions: Northeast, Midwest, South and West.
Furthermore, each region contains divisions, or groups of states. For example, the Northeast region contains the New England and Mid-Atlantic divisions. The New England division consists of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. Visit the podcast blog site at www.SlowAmericanEnglish.net to see a color map of the Census Bureau regions and a list of the divisions within each region.
People who live in the different regions can be described by adding -er to a region name. So, people are called Westerners, Easterners, Northerners, Midwesterners or Southerners.
Although they are good general guides, the Census Bureau designations are not the only ways Americans refer to geographic areas of the country. Region names and meanings vary by location and have evolved because of cultural differences and geographic features, not governmental units. Therefore, each group might have a different name for each other’s region due to different dialects and attitudes.
Here are some examples:
The Mid South states are farther north than the Deep South states. Southerners say that people up North (in the Northeast and Midwest) are Yankees. Easterners may travel out West or to the Pacific Northwest (Oregon and Washington). The East Coast is often referred to as the Eastern Seaboard. A slang phrase for the West Coast is the Left Coast. Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah are considered the Southwest. States in the lower right section on a map of the US are thought of as the Southeast.
Geographic features also are used for region names. Appalachia covers roughly the region of the Appalachian Mountains, stretching from the southern part of New York State to parts of the Deep South. Upper Plains States are located in the northern part of the Midwest because of the flat land there. The Great Lakes region consists of the states near the Great Lakes on the northern border of the US.
Sometimes the term “belt” is used to refer to a continuous geographic area with a common characteristic. For example, the Corn Belt is the region of the Midwest where corn is the primary crop. The Bible Belt refers to southern states where fundamental religion is prevalent. The Sun Belt is the southern, hot-weather portion of the country from coast to coast. Conversely, the Frost Belt is the northern area prone to very cold weather. The Rust Belt is the northern area where industrial factories were common but are now unused and decaying.
Another way to refer to America’s regions is by time zone. Listen to Episode 8 of this podcast for details about that topic.
There are many, many more ways Americans refer to the regions of their country. The ones presented here are just a few of them, but they are common and may help you understand regional phrases in American English better.
US Census Bureau Map and Regions:
Region 1: Northeast
Division 1: New England
Division 2: Mid-Atlantic
Region 2: Midwest
Division 3: East North Central
Division 4: West North Central
Region 3: South
Division 5: South Atlantic
Division 6: East South Central
Division 7: West South Central
Region 4: West
Division 8: Mountain
Division 9: Pacific
Note: Puerto Rico, island areas and territories are not part of any census region.
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