A while back now, I wrote a brief piece commenting on the ability of at least some chimpanzees to recognise numbers. So it didn't come as a huge surprise to hear that members of a baboon troop could distinguish between 'real' words and random strings of letters. Yes, really.
A group of psychologists led by Jonathan Grainger (Grainger, Dufaur, Montant, ZIegler & Fagot, 2012) have just published a paper in Science entitled "Orthographic Processing in Baboons (Papio papio)", where 'orthography' is a standardised system for using a particular writing system (script) to write a particular language. The team noted that most research on visual word recognition hasn't treated words as 'visual objects', instead dealing with the relationship between information at the letter level and 'higher-level linguistic properties including semantics & syntax. But it seems that the ability to recognise words as entities resides in a part of the brain that's also involved in recognition of objects & faces, and primates are pretty good at faces, so Grainger & his colleagues decided to investigate whether baboons could extend their facial recognition skills to identifying words.