Parikh's theorem

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A theorem in formal language theory that concerns the nature of context-free languages when order of letters is disregarded.

Let the alphabet Σ be the set {a1,…,an}. The letter distribution, Φ(w), of a Σ-word w is the n-tuple 〈N1,…,Nn〉 with Ni the number of occurrences of ai in w. The Parikh image, Φ(L), of a Σ-language L is {Φ(w) | wL} i.e. the set of all letter-distributions of words in L. L1 and L2 are letter-equivalent if Φ(L1) = Φ(L2) Letter distributions may be added component-wise as vectors. This leads to the following: a set S of letter distributions is linear if, for some distributions d and d1,…,dk, S is the set of all sums formed from d and multiples of di. S is semilinear if it is a finite union of linear sets.


{Φ(w) | wL}

Φ(L1) = Φ(L2)

Parikh's theorem now states that if L is context-free Φ(L) is semilinear. It can also be shown that Φ(L) is semilinear if and only if L is letter-equivalent to a regular language. Hence any context-free language is letter-equivalent to a regular language – although not all such languages are context-free.

Subjects: Computing.

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