The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which manages the internet domain-name system (DNS), this week announced plans to test a system of internationalised domain names.

ICANN and the internet community have appointed a committee to draw up plans for a technical test of internationalised top-level domain names, which will use non-Roman characters or Roman characters with diacritical marks. A system is already in place for internationalised second-level domain names.

"There is a need to continue supporting multilingual access to the internet," ICANN said in a statement.

Multilingual interweb

The test of internationalised domain names will include two approaches, ICANN said. One approach, called DNAME records, will use an alias designation for an entire domain by mapping a new domain into one that already exists. The other approach, NS-records, will insert an internationalised label in the root zone without duplicating a pre-existing sub-domain structure, it said.

News that ICANN plans to test internationalised top-level domain system comes amidst heightened concerns that linguistic differences could effectively divide the internet.

Last month, an inaccurate report from China's People's Daily newspaper claimed China planned to implement its own system of top-level domain names. That report, which was picked up by some Western media outlets, sparked fears China planned to divide the internet by creating its own DNS.

At the time, ICANN and the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) quickly set the record straight, denying that any plan existed for China to create its own system of top-level domain names.

ICANN plans to release in April its plans regarding the test of non-English domain names for public review and comment, it said. The test itself is expected to begin later this year.