A Square Root Map on Sturmian Words

  • Jarkko Peltomäki
  • Markus A. Whiteland
Keywords: Sturmian word, Standard word, Optimal squareful word, Word equation, continued fraction


We introduce a square root map on Sturmian words and study its properties. Given a Sturmian word of slope $\alpha$, there exists exactly six minimal squares in its language (a minimal square does not have a square as a proper prefix). A Sturmian word $s$ of slope $\alpha$ can be written as a product of these six minimal squares: $s = X_1^2 X_2^2 X_3^2 \cdots$. The square root of $s$ is defined to be the word $\sqrt{s} = X_1 X_2 X_3 \cdots$. The main result of this paper is that $\sqrt{s}$ is also a Sturmian word of slope $\alpha$. Further, we characterize the Sturmian fixed points of the square root map, and we describe how to find the intercept of $\sqrt{s}$ and an occurrence of any prefix of $\sqrt{s}$ in $s$. Related to the square root map, we characterize the solutions of the word equation $X_1^2 X_2^2 \cdots X_n^2 = (X_1 X_2 \cdots X_n)^2$ in the language of Sturmian words of slope $\alpha$ where the words $X_i^2$ are minimal squares of slope $\alpha$.

We also study the square root map in a more general setting. We explicitly construct an infinite set of non-Sturmian fixed points of the square root map. We show that the subshifts $\Omega$ generated by these words have a curious property: for all $w \in \Omega$ either $\sqrt{w} \in \Omega$ or $\sqrt{w}$ is periodic. In particular, the square root map can map an aperiodic word to a periodic word.

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