Skilled readers use information about which letters are where in a word (orthographic information) in order to access the sounds and meanings of printed words. We asked whether efficient processing of orthographic information could be achieved in the absence of prior language knowledge. To do so, we trained baboons to discriminate English words from nonsense combinations of letters that resembled real words. The results revealed that the baboons were using orthographic information in order to efficiently discriminate words from letter strings that were not words. Our results demonstrate that basic orthographic processing skills can be acquired in the absence of preexisting linguistic representations.