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False friends – industries or sectors?

Industry or Sector?

In English there is a clear distinction between “industry” – a non-countable noun referring to all industrial activities, contrasting for example with “government” – and “an industry”, which is a particular activity.

“Government and industry met to discuss the economic crisis.”
“The oil industry is trying to publicise its green credential.”

The distinction is made in English by the use of the definite article. Another way to subdivide “industry” is to use the word sector, mostly in such large groupings as private sector, public sector, etc. Chambers dictionary defines sector as “a division or section of a nation’s economic operations.”

In French and other Romance languages, on the other hand, the first sense of “industry” is expressed by “l’industrie”, using the definite article, and so there is no distinction available for the subdivision into “industries”. Instead, the word “secteur” is used. So while English has “the tourist industry”, French has “le secteur du tourisme”. The vehicle industry in Spanish is “el sector de la automoción”, etc.

For translators, the problem is to know when to translate as “sector” and when as “industry”. Unfortunately, Eurospeak tends to use “sector” where native English speakers would use “industry”. And the EU even has industry bodies called “Sectoral Committees”, so it looks like the new meaning of “sector” may be here to stay.

I didn’t mispell “sectoral” either; that’s what the EU uses. But you won’t find it in the dictionary. The normal English adjective from sector is “sectorial”. So “Sectoral Committee” is unconventional, to say the least, on two separate counts!

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