Can baboons read?

Not exactly, but in a recent experiment, they could tell the difference between real words and fake words. What does this tell us about animals, and what could it do for us?

Linguist Daniel Midgley spells it out on this episode of Talk the Talk.


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Show notes

The original article in Science (paywall)
http://www.sciencemag.org/content/336/6078/245.abstract

And several good breakdowns (sciency ones first).
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120416125245.htm
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2012/04/12/reading-without-understanding-baboons-can-tell-real-english-words-from-fake-ones/
http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/17676129
http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/12/us-usa-baboons-idUSBRE83B1A920120412

Writing’s only been around for a short time
http://www.slideshare.net/macloo/clay-tokens-and-the-origin-of-writing
so our brains would have had to use whatever visual and pattern recognition skills were at hand.

Dyslexia may be a failure of visual attention, rather than letter-to-phoneme processing.
http://www.newsfactor.com/news/Baboons-Learn-To-Recognize-Words/story.xhtml?story_id=13000006F4LO

The authors think the apes are processing ‘bigrams’, or two letters at a time. (PDF)
http://www.unicog.org/publications/DehaeneCohenSigmanVinckier_LCDmodelReading_TICS2005.pdf

But why would that be necessary? Yoav Goldberg can get computer models to do it by assessing probabilities of single letters.
http://www.cs.bgu.ac.il/~yoavg/uni/bloglike/baboons.html

This post by Mark Liberman of Language Log shows how low-frequency letters can push down the probability of a string of letters being an actual word.
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=3912