South Estonian Languages

Visitors may notice a quite different, choppier-sounding language spoken in the southeastern corner of Estonia. Until the end of the 19th century, the northern and southern Estonian languages flourished quite independently of each other. Then, in the interests of nationalism, a one-country, one-language policy was adopted, and the dominant Northern Estonian became the country’s main language.

Within the Southern Estonian strand there are several distinct language groupings, the largest by far of which is Võro, spoken by around 75,000 native speakers, most of whom live in Võrumaa (Võru County). It's very closely related to Seto, which has an additional 12,500 speakers. Other variants include the Mulgi and Tartu dialects, with 9700 and 4100 speakers respectively.

To learn more about the unique Võro language, contact the Võro Institute (www.wi.ee).