I read a story in the paper this morning that gave me a giggle and made me wonder if someone was pulling the reporter’s leg. ICANN, the official internet naming agency, is starting to test using domain names written in languages composed of non-Roman letters. The 11 languages they are testing are Arabic, Persian, simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese, Russian, Hindi, Greek, Korean, Yiddish, Japanese and Tamil. Yes, that does say Yiddish. Not Hebrew, the language of scores of the highest of the high-tech internet entrepreneurs, but Yiddish. These languages were chosen “based on the online communities that have expressed the most interest in and need for non-English domains.”
Are there really octogenarians and Chasids clamoring for the ability to surf the web in Yiddish? Are the Judenrein communities of Eastern Europe attempting to preserve the vestiges of Yiddish culture online? Or is it a way to avoid dredging up politicized battles by testing the Hebrew characters in which the language is written while calling it by a more nonthreatening name?
I’m going to go reserve my social-marketing.oy domain name now.
UPDATE (10/15/07): Kieren McCarthy at the ICANN blog responded to my question about why Yiddish was selected. She forwarded what Tina Dam, the manager of that project, told her:
“It was not a case of Yiddish rather than Hebrew. These are two different languages that both utilize the Hebrew script. When we were looking at which language to chose to translate the word test for, and hence develop the IDN TLD, we picked the ones where clear need had been expressed.
“However, the list of the eleven was up for comments and review and we had expected it to be expanded with a few additional languages that communities around the world would like to add. We did not get any such requests and so went ahead with the 11 we have today.
“However, please keep in mind that it is not about testing languages – it is about testing a technology. We do need to test the technology on both right-to-left languages and left-to-right languages – Yiddish, Arabic, Persian being the three of the former…
It still amazes me that there are tech-savvy Yiddish-speaking activists out there demanding equal language access.