National Geographic : 2012 Oct
ART: SARAH KING NEXT SKYCAST Overhead this month in parts of the world October 21 Orionids meteor shower Choice Words Reading this page starts with the ability to distinguish real words from garble by identifying letters and their relationship to one another. Baboons, a new study reveals, have that skill too---countering a common theory that reading requires prior knowledge of language. Researchers at France's Aix-Marseille University presented four- letter combinations to six Guinea baboons, which touched one of two shapes on a screen to indicate word or nonword. After some 10,000 attempts each, they could spot actual words with nearly 75 percent accuracy---and could even predict whether a new sequence was a word. The results suggest that human reading might involve recognizing letters purely as objects, rather than symbols associated with spoken language, says co-author Jonathan Grainger. The next step: seeing if baboons can connect words with meaning. ---Luna Shyr Baboons learned to identify English words (in brown) from nonwords (blue) with up to 75 percent accuracy.