The English language has had a tight grip on top-level Internet domain names, but that appears likely to end soon as ICANN is set to approve new technical standards paving the way for names in languages such as Chinese and others that use different symbols.
Officials of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers are meeting in Rio de Janeiro this week, and Chairman Vinton G. Cerf was quoted as saying the group would likely approve new technical standards.
ICANN also has a new president, Australian Paul Twomey, who told reporters last week that his selection as the first non-American to head the organization in charge of the Internet’s global addressing system represents another step in the group’s internationalization.
Although individual Web pages can be served up in many languages, the main computers that handle online addresses for the Net currently understand only the 26 English letters, 10 numerals and a hyphen, along with a period for splitting addresses into sections.
The Internet Engineering Task Force has been working on how to get computers to convert non-English characters smoothly and easily. The problem has been to get non-ASCII characters translated into unique ASCII strings that can be resolved by the existing domain name system.
ICANN’s background paper on the matter can be found here. However, even with the changes, Cerf reportedly said that a domain name’s suffix – like .com or .org — would remain in English for now.
How soon users would be able to obtain domain names in other languages depends largely on the extent to which technicians using those languages have translated their alphabets into Internet protocol. Those languages farthest along are said to be Japanese, Chinese and Korean.