letters - TheMarker - July 23 2010
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After all of the permutations that have taken place on the internet over the years, the language of at-signs, tweets and likes has seen many changes. Slang words that have their origins in marine lingo have diffused into everyday English, and high-tech terms have slipped into common conversations at school and work.

As the new technologies are universalized into a global language, it would seem that Hebrew has been excluded from internet-speak. English terms have often been adopted wholesale, without having to go through the process of Hebraicization. Conscious efforts to replace these terms never managed to penetrate at street level, even if they were embraced by academics.

There have been a few notable exceptions, however, like the "tsiyutz" that replaced the "tweet". But in general, Hebrew hasn't made many inroads.

Over and above the aesthetic implications, Israelis that are not competent in languages other than Hebrew haven't been able to fully utilize the internet. Hebrew-loving technophiles can rejoice at the news that the Israeli Internet Association is now allowing domain name registration in the holy language.

Corporations and non-profit organizations have been allowed to register Hebrew domains for the last three months, in order to allow these bodies to protect their well-known trademarked names. 389 domains have been registered thus far.

Anyone who ever wanted a website called "danaisawesome.co.il" or "koolkobi.org.il" - in Hebrew letters, of course – can now call up any officially licensed operator who, in conjunction with the Israeli Internet Association, can check if the name is taken, and if it isn't, can register it for between NIS 70 and 90.

In the months to come, even Hebrew suffixes will be added – probably Yud-Lamed, instead of ".il". But will these changes inject more Hebrew into online and real-life conversations about technology, allowing more Israelis to take part?

Journalist and author Rubik Rosenthal, member of a committee that deals with these issues for an organization that registers domains, says, "The language of the internet is the language of blogs, chats and forums. It is completely open to a very wide range of people, not only professionals. In general, it is characterized by written language, not spoken language."

Rosenthal discerns between the language that has taken hold over the internet and the organizations that will want to register domain names in Hebrew. "They will also have marketing reasons, economic reasons and ideological reasons for choosing domain names," Rosenthal says.

"If it will succeed, it will increase the presence of Hebrew on the internet, and that would certainly be welcomed," Rosenthal says. "It will be interesting to see if despite Hebrew's limitations as a language with relatively few speakers, there will be people who are interested in having a Hebrew domain, and which domain names they will choose."

"It's a very interesting theoretical question – where Hebrew meets the global lingua franca, how will the Hebrew language deal with it, and what will the Hebrew language have to offer to the world of computers in general, and the internet in particular," Rosenthal added.

Early bird gets the tweet

If you have a recollection of domain names in Hebrew with the suffix ".com", you're not mistaken. Even in the past, it was possible to register names of websites with non-Latin letters. The major difference between what existed previously and the new system is that now any computer in the world will be able to access the Hebrew domain names, whereas before only computers in Israel could do so.

Doron Shikmoni, vice-president of the Israeli Internet Association, explained in a letter made public last week, "Domain names in Hebrew are intended to make internet access easier for part of the public that found it difficult, due to the use of Latin letters. When the Hebrew domain name registration is implemented, websites with Hebrew names will be accessible in Israel and every other place in the world."

The association reported that in the first two days of registration, thousands of private individuals have already made requests to reserve Hebrew domain names on a first come, first serve basis.

Benny Lipsiks, director of a internet domain name registrar, says that he helps people pick particularly attractive domain names. Lipsiks preferred not to divulge which names were the most popular, but explained, "Generally, when name registries are opened up, demand is greatest for generic names."

Having said that, it’s still uncertain whether the use of Hebrew domain names will significantly affect Israeli internet culture. During the internet itself's early years, domain names greatly affected everyone's surfing patterns.

Today we rely a great deal on shortened links to access many webpages, and do not necessarily depend on typing out entire website addresses. Site bars, bookmarks, and favorites that aggregate popular websites and web search engines help us find the information we need.

Recently, a spirited debate has ignited in the blogosphere over the need for Hebrew letters in domain names. Some commenters claimed that it is just another attempt to make money off of web surfers. Others contended that the half-way solution which incorporates both English and Hebrew letters is clumsy and cumbersome.

Another surfer pointed out that search engines such as Google may have a hard time scanning and finding the new Hebrew domain names. Are these fears justified? Only time will tell. All we know for sure is that very soon, any surfer in the world will be able to enter a URL in Hebrew and arrive at a website – and not only one that reads "404 – Page not found".