Languages, groups and equations

Laura Ciobanu, Alex Levine

Research output: Working paper


The survey provides an overview of the work done in the last 10 years to characterise solutions to equations in groups in terms of formal languages. We begin with the work of Ciobanu, Diekert and Elder, who showed that solutions to systems of equations in free groups in terms of reduced words are expressible as EDT0L languages. We provide a sketch of their algorithm, and describe how the free group results extend to hyperbolic groups. The characterisation of solutions as EDT0L languages is very robust, and many group constructions preserve this, as shown by Levine. The most recent progress in the area has been made for groups without negative curvature, such as virtually abelian, the integral Heisenberg group, or the soluble Baumslag-Solitar groups, where the approaches to describing the solutions are different from the negative curvature groups. In virtually abelian groups the solutions sets are in fact rational, and one can obtain them as $m$-regular sets. In the Heisenberg group producing the solutions to a single equation reduces to understanding the solutions to quadratic Diophantine equations and uses number theoretic techniques. In the Baumslag-Solitar groups the methods are combinatorial, and focus on the interplay of normal forms to solve particular classes of equations. In conclusion, EDT0L languages give an effective and simple combinatorial characterisation of sets of seemingly high complexity in many important classes of groups.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2023

Publication series

NameLanguages and Automata: Gagta Book 3
Publisherde Gruyter


  • math.GR
  • cs.FL
  • 20F10, 20F65, 03D05, 68Q45


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