Multi-lingual Internet a Step Closer

Dennis Faas's picture

The group behind the regulation of website addresses is planning the first step to a multi-lingual Internet.

The International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is working to allow top level domains to be registered in languages which do not use the Latin alphabet. This is the set of 26 letters, also known as the Roman alphabet, used in languages such as English, French of German.

The top level domain is the part of the website address which identifies the type of site (such as .COM or .NET) or the country of origin (such as .CA for Canada).

ICANN have launched the project by setting up wiki sites in eleven alphabets. (A wiki is a site or page that can be edited by anyone, such as Wikipedia.) Each site has the name www.example.test, but written in the relevant language. Visitors can use the wiki function to set up their own pages (such as example.test/yourname).

The languages involved are Arabic, Persian, Chinese (simplified and traditional), Russian, Hindi, Greek, Korean, Yiddish, Japanese and Tamil. Eventually ICANN hopes to create universal standards to increase the variety of languages which can be used in areas such as fonts, translation software and search engines

The project is being run in partnership with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The three groups met at a four-day conference in Brazil this week. (Source:

UNESCO's involvement comes as some critics say a United Nations body should take over ICANN's role. The Brazilian government's technology spokesman believes ICANN is too closely linked to the United States, arguing "The Internet has become an everyday instrument of particular importance for the entire world, yet it's still under the control of one country."

But others claim a UN-controlled Internet would not be effective. Leslie Harris, president of the Center for Democracy & Technology, says it would mean giving some control to countries which already restrict Internet users. "It's hard to believe that turning over the Internet to a body subject to negotiations between China's version of the Internet and North Korea's version of the Internet will result in an Internet that's more open and free." (Source:

Opening up the Internet to more languages will certainly create a truly world wide web, but it appears such a global technology will always be subject to international politics.

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