Accents are marks that change the pronunciation of certain letters in Canadian French and other languages, such as é. The special characters that use these marks have often been excluded from web addresses, sometimes due to technical difficulties in supporting them or because of other concerns. Nations where accented letters are in use have found that this creates problems for them. One such nation is Canada.
A multilingual society, Canada has a large Canadian French-speaking population who have resented and protested their inability to register domain names in French using correctly-accented spellings.
Historically, it has not been possible to register a domain with Canada’s own “.ca” extension using correctly-spelled Canadian French words. This was because the Canadian Internet Registration Authority did not permit the use of accented letters. Site owners either had to use English words, accept inaccurate spellings or register their sites elsewhere, meaning that they could not have a “.ca” URL. This frustrated many Canadian French speakers, who pointed out that other nations’ registration authorities support special characters. For example, Russian URLs can include Cyrillic letters.
In early 2012, it was announced that the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) had begun the consultation process that would enable sites to use accents in their names. In January 2013, CIRA stated that the consultation was complete and that letters with accents would now be allowed in “.ca” site names.
In all, 16 new characters have been added to the Canadian Internet Registration Authority’s set of allowable characters. This means that domain names such as “préside.ca” will now be possible. For the first time, site names in correct French will be available.
Existing Domain Names
In light of the change, those who already have domain names registered with CIRA may wish to amend those names to include French spellings. CIRA has announced that registrants can do so for free. Those who are happy with the existing spelling of their site names will not be obliged to change them, however.
As English has ceased to be the dominant language of the web, the need to accommodate special characters and other linguistic variations has become more pronounced. The move by CIRA to include these 16 extra characters is typical of a general shift towards more flexible domain registration practices that take into account the wide variety of different languages and alphabets employed by today’s Internet users.
Better start practicing your French accent…