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There are many different ways to divide land up into regions. In this lesson, we’ll look at the common types of regions in geography, including formal regions, functional regions, and vernacular regions.

Geography

Imagine that you’re standing in the middle of a city and you begin to walk. You walk and walk and walk, and then you’re in the suburbs and you keep walking and walking and walking, and then you’re in the countryside and you’re still walking.

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Will you know when you pass from one place to another? How will you be able to tell if you cross the city line, or even the state line?Geography is the study of the earth’s features and how human behavior interacts with them. Often, the earth is divided into regions, or areas distinguished from each other.But how are regions formed? Are there always clear-cut boundaries from one region to the next? To answer those questions, let’s look closer at three common types of regions in geography: formal, functional, and vernacular regions.

Formal Regions

Imagine that you’re standing in the middle of Atlanta, the largest city in the state of Georgia. You are in the city of Atlanta, the state of Georgia, in the United States of America, which is in North America. Not too far away is the Smoky Mountain range.Regions defined formally, often by government or other structures, are called formal regions.

Cities, towns, states, and countries are all formal regions, as are things like mountain ranges.Formal regions often nest inside one another, so that when you are standing in the middle of Atlanta, you are in the city of Atlanta, which is part of Fulton County, which rests inside the state of Georgia, which is in the country of the United States, which is on the continent of North America. All of those are formal regions: you are standing in five regions at once!

Functional Regions

OK, so you’re in the middle of Atlanta. Now let’s start walking. After a while, we see a sign telling us we’re moving from Atlanta into another city, or from one county into another. But things on one side of the city line aren’t immediately different from things on the other. The houses still look the same, and there are many of the same stores.

In some ways, it doesn’t feel like we’ve left Atlanta at all!Functional regions are made up of a central place and surrounding areas affected by it. Often, this is a metropolitan area that consists of a major city and lots of smaller towns or cities that surround it.Atlanta is a good example.

The Atlanta metro area includes over 140 cities and towns. Places like Marietta, Alpharetta, Sandy Springs, and others are all part of the Atlanta region. In fact, the functional region of the Atlanta metropolitan area is almost as big as the entire state of Massachusetts!Functional regions are important because formal regions don’t always tell the whole story. After all, when you move from Atlanta into Marietta or Jonesboro or another suburb, your life is still much the same as it would be if you were in the actual city of Atlanta.

In fact, many people live in one town and work in another, because they are part of the same functional region.

Vernacular Regions

Sometimes, regions are larger than even functional regions. For example, think about the South, or Dixie. You probably have a pretty good idea of what you think people from Dixie are like.Whether you’re right or not, there are certain environmental and cultural similarities between people of large regions. Areas defined by people’s perceptions and understanding of culture are called vernacular regions. Vernacular means ‘language,’ so think of it kind of like dividing regions by what you might say about the people in that region.

Atlanta might be considered part of Dixie to many people, and most people would consider Atlanta (and Georgia) to be part of the South. But because vernacular regions are defined by people’s ideas, there can be some considerable variation. For example, think about the state of Texas. Is Texas part of the South? The West? The Midwest? If you ask a bunch of different people, you’re likely to get many different responses!

Lesson Summary

Geography is the study of the earth and the people in it.

Often, the earth is divided into regions, or areas that are distinguished from other places. Three common types of regions are formal regions, which are defined formally by government or other structures, such as cities, states, and mountain ranges; functional regions, which consist of a central place and the surrounding areas that are dependent upon that place, such as a metropolitan area; and vernacular regions, which are areas defined by people’s perceptions and understanding of culture, such as the South or Midwest.

Learning Outcomes

Once you’ve completed this lesson, you’ll be able to:

  • Define geography and regions
  • Describe formal, functional and vernacular regions

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