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The Võro Institute is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the Võro language and culture, which are tightly connected with its historic center, the rural and mostly agricultural south-eastern Estonian county of Võromaa.

The Võro grassroots movement was embraced by the Estonian government, which founded the Võro Institute in 1995. The Institute is engaged in a wide range of activities to meet the challenges facing lesser-spoken languages, including (to name just a few) establishing school programs, conducting linguistic and regional research, preserving place-names and their corresponding stories, publishing Võro-language scholarship and school textbooks, and organizing annual language conferences. The aim of these activities is to encourage the Võro people to speak their own language and to preserve their characteristic life-style.

The Võro language, like Estonian, Hungarian, and Finnish, is a Finno-Ugric language. Võro is a descendant of the old South Estonian tribal language and is the least influenced by North Estonian. In addition to Võro, other contemporary South Estonian languages include the Mulgi, Tartu and Seto. The earliest written evidence of South Estonian is a translation of the New Testament published in 1688. Although the status of South Estonian began to diminish after the 1880s, the language began to undergo a revival in the late 1980s. Today, South Estonian is used in the works of some of Estonia's most well known playwrights, poets, and authors.

There are approximately 70,000 active and passive users of the Võro language all around the world. The bulk of the Võro-language speakers, however, are found in historical Võromaa (Võro Shire), which refers to the territory bounded by the same county lines from 1783 to 1920. The Võro language is spoken in the eight parishes of historical Võromaa: Karula, Harglõ, Urvastõ, Rõugõ, Kanepi, Põlva, Räpinä, and Vahtsõliina. These parishes are currently centered (due to redistricting) in Võru and Põlva counties with parts extending into Valga and Tartu counties. The Võro language was also once spoken further south and east of historical Võromaa in what is now Latvia and Russia. Today, many Võro-language speakers can also be found in Tallinn, Tartu and the rest of Estonia.

Where is Võromaa (Võro Shire)?

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