Wiley Interdiscip Rev Cogn Sci
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The field of formal linguistics was founded on the premise that language is mentally represented as a deterministic symbolic grammar. While this approach has captured many important characteristics of the world's languages, it has also led to a tendency to focus theoretical questions on the correct formalization of grammatical rules while also de-emphasizing the role of learning and statistics in language development and processing. In this review we present a different approach to language research that has emerged from the parallel distributed processing or 'connectionist' enterprise. In the connectionist framework, mental operations are studied by simulating learning and processing within networks of artificial neurons. With that in mind, we discuss recent progress in connectionist models of auditory word recognition, reading, morphology, and syntactic processing. We argue that connectionist models can capture many important characteristics of how language is learned, represented, and processed, as well as providing new insights about the source of these behavioral patterns. Just as importantly, the networks naturally capture irregular (non-rule-like) patterns that are common within languages, something that has been difficult to reconcile with rule-based accounts of language without positing separate mechanisms for rules and exceptions.