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'Literate' baboons can tell genuine words from nonsense

It may not be quite the same as producing the complete works of Shakespeare, but baboons have shown they can master one of the basic elements of literacy.

In tests, the monkeys learned to distinguish between genuine English words and "nonsense" sequences of letters. Recognising words in this way was previously assumed to require the kind of language skills only humans possess. Experts now believe when people read written words they draw on an ability that predates human evolution.

The baboons learned to discriminate dozens of words from more than 7,000 non-words with almost 75 per cent accuracy, French scientists said in a report published in the journal Science.