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Although Wales closely shares its political and social history with the rest of Great Britain, and a majority of the population in most areas speaks English as a first language, the country has retained a distinct cultural identity and is officially bilingual.

Over 560,000 Welsh language speakers live in Wales, and the language is spoken by a majority of the population in parts of the north and west.

The Cumbric language, which is thought to have been closely related to Welsh, was spoken in this area until becoming extinct around the 12th century.

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The Roman conquest of Wales began in AD 48 and took 30 years to complete. The campaigns of conquest are the most widely known feature of Wales during the Roman era, because of the spirited, but ultimately unsuccessful, defence of their homelands by two native tribes: the Silures and the Ordovices.

Welsh liberalism, exemplified in the early 20th century by Lloyd George, was displaced by the growth of socialism and the Labour Party.

Welsh national feeling grew over the century; Plaid Cymru was formed in 1925 and the Welsh Language Society in 1962.

Rugby union is seen as a symbol of Welsh identity and an expression of national consciousness.

The English words "Wales" and "Welsh" derive from the same Old English root (singular Wealh, plural Wēalas), a descendant of Proto-Germanic *Walhaz, which was itself derived from the name of the Gaulish people known to the Romans as Volcae and which came to refer indiscriminately to inhabitants of the Western Roman Empire.

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