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The language, which falls within the Insular Celtic family, has historically been spoken throughout Wales, with its predecessor Common Brittonic once spoken throughout most of the island of Great Britain.

Prior to the 20th century, large numbers of Welsh people spoke only Welsh, with little or no fluent knowledge of English.

The surviving poem Y Gododdin is in early Welsh and refers to the Brythonic kingdom of Gododdin with a capital at Din Eidyn (Edinburgh) and extending from the area of Stirling to the Tyne.

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When the Roman legions departed Britain around 400, a Romano-British culture remained in the areas the Romans had settled, and the pre-Roman cultures in others.Many Welsh people, even in predominately English-speaking areas of Wales, are fluent or semi-fluent in Welsh or, to varying degrees, capable of speaking or understanding Welsh at limited or conversational proficiency levels.Although the Welsh language and its ancestors have been spoken in what is now Wales since well before the Roman incursions into Britain, historian John Davies argues that the origin of the "Welsh nation" can be traced to the late 4th and early 5th centuries, following the end of Roman rule in Britain.Some current genetic research supports the idea that people living in the British Isles are likely mainly descended from the indigenous European Paleolithic (Old Stone Age hunter gatherers) population (about 80%), with a smaller Neolithic (New Stone Age farmers) input (about 20%).Paleolithic Europeans seem to have been a homogeneous population, possibly due to a population bottleneck (or near-extinction event) on the Iberian peninsula, where a small human population is thought to have survived the glaciation, and expanded into Europe during the Mesolithic.

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