The free group in R

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The freegroup package

This package provides some functionality for manipulating the free group on a finite list of symbols.

There is an excellent wikipedia page.

Basically, the free group~$\left(X,\circ\right)$ on a set $S={a,b,c,...,z}$ is the set $X$ of words that are things like $c^{-4}bb^2aa^{-1}ca$. Usually one works only with words that are in reduced form, which has successive powers of the same symbol combined, in this case it would be $c^{-4}b^3ca$; see how the $a$ term in the middle has vanished.

The group operation is juxtaposition; thus, for example $a^2b^{-3}c^2\circ c^{-2}ba =a^2b^{-3}c^2c^-2ba =a^2b^{-2}ba$.

A word is represented by a two-row integer matrix: The top row is the integer representation of the symbol and the second row is the corresponding power. For example, say we want to represent~$a^2b^{-3}ac^2a^{-2}$ we would identify $a$ as 1, $b$ as 2, etc and write

(M <- rbind(c(1,2,3,3,1),c(2,-3,2,3,-2)))

(see how negative entries in the second row correspond to negative powers). Then to convert to a more useful form we would have

library(freegroup) (x <- free(M))

The representation for R object x is still a two-row matrix, but the print method is active and uses a more visually appealing scheme.

We can coerce strings to free objects:

(y <-"aabbbcccc"))

The free group operation is simply juxtaposition, represented here by the plus symbol, "+":


See how the $a$ "cancels out" in the juxtaposition. Note that concatenation is associative. Multiplication is also defined. Suppose we want to concatenate 5 copies of x:


The package is vectorized:


There are a few methods for creating free objects:

abc(1:9) rfree(10,4)

Inverses are calculated using unary or binary minus:

(u <- rfree(10,4)) -u u-u

We can take the "sum" of a vector of free objects simply by juxtaposing the elements:


Powers are defined as per group conjugation: x^y == y^{-1}xy (or, written in additive notation, -y+x+y):

u z <- alpha(26) u^z


sum(u^z) == sum(u^z)

If we have more than 26 symbols the print method runs out of letters:


If this is a problem (it might not be: the print method might not be important) it is possible to override the default symbol set:

options(symbols = free(rbind(1:50,1))