ICANN, the international organization responsible for domain names and IP addresses, has approved the use of non-Latin scripts in internet addresses. The Internationalized Domain Name Fast Track Process will launch on Nov 16. "The coming introduction of non-Latin characters represents the biggest technical change to the Internet since it was created four decades ago," said ICANN chairman Peter Dengate Thrush. "Right now Internet address endings are limited to Latin characters – A to Z. But the Fast Track Process is the first step in bringing the 100,000 characters of the languages of the world online for domain names." The non-Latin domain names will initially be available only for country codes. For example, a website ending with .kr will now be able to use the Korean script instead of the Latin letters. Eventually, all parts of an internet address will be able to be written in non-Latin scripts.

ICANN will begin accepting applications for internet extensions reflecting countries’ names on November 16th, though applicants must meet criteria like government and community support and stability.

Apparently, the non-Latin domain names will only be available in the countries where those languages are spoken. What about for sizeable immigrant language bases like Cantonese in San Francisco and Arabic in France?

This is a big step in reducing the web’s Latin-centric (well, Anglo-centric) nature. While the linguistic hegemony of English, and therefore the Latin script, is embedded in many cultural products, nowhere – outside of tourism – is it more so than in technology and the internet.

"This is only the first step, but it is an incredibly big one and an historic move toward the internationalization of the Internet," said Rod Beckstrom, ICANN's President and CEO.

"The first countries that participate will not only be providing valuable information of the operation of IDNs in the domain name system, they are also going to help to bring the first of billions more people online – people who never use Roman characters in their daily lives."

By Mark Alvarez