Shift space

In symbolic dynamics and related branches of mathematics, a shift space or subshift is a set of infinite words that represent the evolution of a discrete system. In fact, shift spaces and symbolic dynamical systems are often considered synonyms. The most widely studied shift spaces are the subshifts of finite type.


Let A be a finite set of states. An infinite (respectively bi-infinite) word over A is a sequence , where (resp. ) and is in A for any . The shift operator acts on an infinite or bi-infinite word by shifting all symbols to the left, i.e.,

for all n.

In the following we choose and thus speak of infinite words, but all definitions are naturally generalizable to the bi-infinite case.


A set of infinite words over A is a shift space (or subshift) if it is closed with respect to the natural product topology of and invariant under the shift operator. Thus a set is a subshift if and only if

  1. for any (pointwise) convergent sequence of elements of S, the limit also belongs to S; and
  2. .

A shift space S is sometimes denoted as to emphasize the role of the shift operator.

Some authors[1] use the term subshift for a set of infinite words that is just invariant under the shift, and reserve the term shift space for those that are also closed.

Characterization and sofic subshifts

A subset S of is a shift space if and only if there exists a set X of finite words such that S coincides with the set of all infinite words over A having no factor (substring) in X.

In particular, if X is finite then S is called a subshift of finite type and more generally when X is a regular language, the corresponding subshift is called sofic. The name "sofic" was coined by Weiss (1973), based on the Hebrew word סופי meaning "finite", to refer to the fact that this is a generalization of a finiteness property.[2]


The first trivial example of shift space (of finite type) is the full shift .

Let . The set of all infinite words over A containing at most one b is a sofic subshift, not of finite type. The set of all infinite words over A whose b form blocks of prime length is not sofic (this can be shown by using the pumping lemma).

See also


  1. Thomsen, K. (2004). "On the structure of a sofic shift space" (PDF Reprint). Transactions of the American Mathematical Society. 356 (9): 3557–3619. doi:10.1090/S0002-9947-04-03437-3. Retrieved 2012-01-27.
  2. Weiss, Benjamin (1973), "Subshifts of finite type and sofic systems", Monatsh. Math., 77: 462–474, doi:10.1007/bf01295322, MR 0340556. Weiss does not describe the origin of the word other than calling it a neologism; however, its Hebrew origin is stated by MathSciNet reviewer R. L. Adler.

Further reading

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