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An overview of symmetric functions and related topics


Border strip tableaux and the Littlewood map

The notion of border-strip tableaux, also known as rim-hook tableaux, show up in several areas, most notably the Murnaghan–Nakayama rule and the original definition of LLT polynomials.

Border strip tableaux

A border strip tableau (also known as ribbon tableaux or rim-hook tableax) of shape $\lambda$ and weight $\mu$ is a filling of the diagram $\lambda$ such that exactly $\mu_i$ boxes are labeled $i,$ and rows and columns are weakly increasing. Moreover, for each $i,$ the boxes labeled $i$ must form a border strip. We let $\BST(\lambda,\mu)$ denote this set of border strip tableaux.

Example (Border-strip tableaux for $\lambda=44321,$ $\mu=5333.$).

Here are the 9 tableaux in $\BST(44321, 5333).$


The height of such a tableau is the sum of the heights of the border strips, where the height of a border strip is the number of rows it touches, minus one. We let $\mathrm{ht}(B)$ denote the height of $B.$

When all strips have the same size, several additional properties hold, and we let $\BST(\lambda,d)$ denote the set of border-strip tableaux of shape $\lambda$ and all strips have size $d.$

$k$-ribbon tableaux

There is a semi-standard version of border strip tableaux, called $k$-ribbon tableaux. Let $k \geq 1$ be an integer. A $k$-horizontal strip is a skew shape formed by a disjoint union of $k$-ribbons such that all their heads are in different columns. A $k$-ribbon tableau of shape $\lambda/\mu$ and weight $\nu,$ is a sequence of shapes

\[ \mu = \mu^0 \subseteq \mu^1 \subseteq \dotsb \subseteq \mu^{\ell} = \lambda \]

such that each $\mu^{i+1}/\mu^{i}$ is a horizontal $k$-ribbon consisting of $\nu_i$ ribbons labeled $i.$ This definition is from [Oğu20]; see [Des08] for an alternative way to phrase this.

We let $\SSYT^{(k)}(\lambda/\mu,\nu)$ denote the set of $k$-ribbon tableaux of shape $\lambda/\mu$ and weight $\nu.$ Moreover, we let $K^{(k)}_{\lambda/\mu,\nu}$ be the cardinality of this set. Note that for $k=1$ we recover the set of semi-standard Young tableaux, and the Kostka coefficients.

Example (k-ribbon tableaux).

The following figure shows the elements in $\SSYT^{(3)}(4422,1111)$ where we have put the label of each $3$-ribbon on its head.

The 6 3-ribbon tableaux with shape 4422 and weight 1111.

The following figure shows the elements in $\SSYT^{(3)}(4422,211).$

The 3 3-ribbon tableaux with shape 4422 and weight 211.

The notion of $k$-ribbon tableaux appear frequently when studying plethysm coefficients, evaluations at roots of unity, and in the study of LLT polynomials.

We have [p. 29, DLT94] that

\[ \schurS_\nu[ \powerSum_k \circ \completeH_\mu ] = \sum_{\lambda} \epsilon_k(\lambda/\mu) K^{(k)}_{\lambda/\nu,\mu} \schurS_\lambda. \]
Theorem (See [p.29, DLT94]).

Let $\lambda/\mu$ be a skew shape and $\nu$ a weak composition. Let $\xi$ be a primitive $j^\thsup$ root of unity. Then \[ K^{(j)}_{\lambda/\mu,\nu} = (-1)^{|\nu|(j-1)}\varepsilon_k(\lambda/\mu) K_{\lambda/\mu,\nu^j}(\xi), \]

where $K_{\lambda/\mu,\nu^j}(q)$ is a Kostka–Foulkes polynomial.

For example, $K_{4422,2^31^31^3}(q)$ is given by

\begin{align*} &q^{25}+q^{24}+4 q^{23}+5 q^{22}+10 q^{21}+13 q^{20}+21 q^{19}+ \\ &24 q^{18}+33 q^{17}+34 q^{16}+39 q^{15}+36 q^{14}+36 q^{13}+ \\ &27 q^{12}+23 q^{11}+14 q^{10}+9 q^9+4 q^8+2 q^7 \end{align*}

and it evaluates to $-3$ at $q=e^{2\pi i/3},$ so $K^{(3)}(4422,211)=3.$

Partition quotients

Background on this subsection can be found in [p.12, Mac95], and also [Chapter 2.7, JK84]. See also the lecture notes by G. Seelinger (taught by J. Morse).

Let $\ell \geq 2$ be a fixed integer. The $\ell$-core of a partition $\lambda,$ denoted $\widetilde{\lambda},$ is the shape which remains after removing all possible $\ell$-ribbons from $\lambda.$ One can show that the $\ell$-core is independent of the choice of ribbons. A partition is an $\ell$-core if and only if no box in $\ell$ has hook-length divisible by $\ell.$

The $\ell$-quotient of a partition $\lambda$ is an $\ell$-tuple $(\lambda^0,\lambda^1,\dotsc,\lambda^{\ell-1})$ with several nice properties:

  • The $\ell$-quotient map \[ \lambda \to \left( \widetilde{\lambda}; \; \lambda^0,\lambda^1,\dotsc,\lambda^{\ell-1} \right) \] is injective, and $|\lambda| = |\widetilde{\lambda}| + \ell |\lambda^0| + \dotsb + \ell |\lambda^{\ell-1}|.$ This explains the usage of the word quotient.
  • Conjugating $\lambda$ conjugates the core and all partitions in the quotient.

Warning! Other definitions of the quotient might give another cyclic rotation of the entries in the $\ell$-tuple. See the discussion in Macdonald's book.

There are several ways to compute the quotient, see [p.12, Mac95]. The following example shows one possible method.

Example (Computing the quotient).

Let $\lambda = 8766641$ and $\ell=3.$ We label the path outlining the partition as follows. Each east step is labeled with the content (row-index minus column-index) of the box above it, while north steps are labeled with the content of the box to its right. We only consider the remainder of the content mod $\ell,$ which gives the labeling as in the figure.

To find $\lambda^j,$ simply consider all boxes in $\lambda,$ such that the label of the horizontal step in the same row, and the vertical step in the same column both are labeled $j.$ After removing empty columns and rows, these boxes form the shape $\lambda^j.$

A partition and the 3-quotient

The $3$-quotient of $\lambda$ is therefore $(33,\;2,\; 211)$ in this case. For example, $\lambda^0$ has shape $33$ as the boxes marked $\blacksquare$ form this shape.

The partition $\lambda$ defines a binary word, by considering the outline, starting from the first column. A vertical step is represented by a 0, and a horizontal one by a $1.$ In this case, we have the word $\dotsc0010111011000101011\dotsc.$ Taking every third entry in this word gives the outline associated to one of the $\lambda^j$ — this can easily be seen from the above definition of quotient.

The quotient map extends to the so-called Littlewood quotient map described below. The name Littlewood map appears in [p.92, Hag07] so I stick with that.

See also the article [BN19b], which explores the quotient map from a Frobenius coordinate perspecive.

Littlewood's quotient map

The Littlewood quotient map sends an element in $\BST(\lambda,\ell)$ to an $\ell$-tuple $(T_0,\dotsc,T_{\ell-1})$ of standard Young tableax, but where the entries $1,2\dotsc,$ are distributed among the the tableaux. The shape of $T_j$ is $\lambda^j,$ the $j^\thsup$ element in the $\ell$-quotient of $\lambda.$

It is easiest to explain the map with an example.


Let $\lambda = 8766641$ and $\ell=3.$ The $3$-core of $\lambda$ is $(2),$ and the $3$-quotient is $(33,\;2,\; 211).$

A border-strip tableau with stips of size 3

The figure shows a border-strip tableau $B,$ where the label has been written in each strip. Recall that the content of a box $(r,c)$ is given by $c-r.$ In each strip, there is a unique box with minimal content — this is where the label has been written. Each label has a content whose remainder is in $\{0,1,\dotsc,\ell-1\},$ mod $\ell.$ Labels whose content-remainder is $j,$ are in correspondence with boxes in $T_j.$ Furthermore, labels with the same content in $B,$ also have the same content in $T_j.$

For example, the strips with labels in $\{1,2,3,8,11,12\}$ have content-remainder $0,$ and are therefore the labels in $T_0.$

Mathematica code

(* This code follows the description in [Macdonald1995] *)
PartitionCore[lam_List, d_Integer] := 
  Module[{m = Length@lam, xi, xis, mr, xiTildes},
   xi = PadRight[lam, m] + Range[m - 1, 0, -1];
   xiTildes = Sort[
     Join @@ Table[
       xis = Select[xi, Mod[# - r, d] == 0 &];
       mr = Length[xis];
       Table[d s + r, {s, 0, mr - 1}]
       , {r, 0, d - 1}], Greater];
   DeleteCases[MapIndexed[#1 - m + #2[[1]] &, xiTildes], 0]
PartitionQuotient[lam_List, d_Integer] := 
  Module[{m = Length@lam, xi, xis, mr},
   xi = PadRight[lam, m] + Range[m - 1, 0, -1];
    xis = Select[xi, Mod[# - r, d] == 0 &];
    mr = Length[xis];
     #1 - mr + #2[[1]] &,
     Sort[(xis - r)/d, Greater]
     ], {r, 0, d - 1}]
(* Skew shapes are given by skewing the quotients. *)
PartitionQuotient[{lam_List, mu_List}, d_Integer] :=
  MapThread[Join, {
    List /@ PartitionQuotient[lam, d],
    List /@ PartitionQuotient[mu, d]}, 1];
(* Example, from J.Haglund's qt-Catalan book *)
PartitionQuotient[{5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5}, 3] == {{2, 2}, {2, 2}, {1, 1}}

The following examples appear in the literature, in [p.13, LLT97], [p.94, Hag07] and [Fig. 2.6, Pak00b], respectively.

$87^241^5$$211$$21,\; 22,\; 2$
$5^6$$\emptyset$$22,\; 22,\; 11$
$987^34$$\emptyset$$33,\; 21,\; 32$
Note that I. Pak has a different labeling convention, so one needs to cyclically rotate the entries in the quotient for the calculations to agree.

It is straightforward to generalize this map to skew shapes, sending elements in $\BST(\lambda/\mu,\ell)$ to $\ell$-tuples of skew tableaux, see [Wil18]. This is possible as long as $\lambda$ and $\mu$ have the same $\ell$-core, otherwise $\BST(\lambda/\mu,\ell)$ is empty. The Littlewood quotient map can be extended to semistandard $k$-ribbon tableaux. This shows why the original definition of LLT polynomials (using ribbon tableaux) agree with the Bylund–Haiman combinatorial model for LLT polynomials.

By using the Littlewood map, one can give an alternative proof of Thurston's theorem [Thu90], which shows that the flip graph of domino tilings of rectangles is connected.

The abacus model

Partition quotients and border-strip tableaux can also be described using abaci, see [Wil18].

Hook formulas for border strip tableaux

Using Littlewood's quotient map the following result follows.

Theorem (Hook formula for border-strip tableaux, see [JK84FL97]).

Let $\mu \vdash d\ell.$ Then

\[ |\BST(\mu,\ell)| = \binom{\ell}{|\mu^0|,|\mu^1|,\dotsc,|\mu^d|} f^{\mu^0} f^{\mu^1}\dotsm f^{\mu^{d-1}}, \]

where the $\mu^j$ are the partitions in the $d$-quotient of $\mu.$

There are analogs of this formula for shifted shapes as well as for trees.

The above formula can also be phrased as follows.

Theorem (The modular hook formula, see [FL97]).

Let $\mu \vdash d\ell.$ Then

\[ |\BST(\mu,\ell)| = \frac{d!}{\prod_{\substack{s \in \mu \\ \ell | h(s) } } h(s)/\ell } \]

where the product is over all boxes in $\mu$ such that the hook value is divisible by $\ell.$

A $q$-analog of this formula is given in [ML19].

Theorem (See [Corollary 9, Whi83] and [Thm. 2.7.27, JK84]).

Let $\lambda \vdash d\ell.$ Then $|\BST(\lambda,d)| = |\chi^{\lambda}(d^\ell)|.$ In other words, the Murnaghan–Nakayama rule is cancellation-free.

In fact, [Thm. 2.7.27, JK84] is the following statement. Let $\lambda \vdash d\ell + m$ where the $d$-core $\widetilde{\lambda}$ has size $m.$ Suppose $\sigma \in \symS_n$ such that the type of $\sigma$ is $d^\ell,\mu$ where $\mu \vdash m.$ Then

\[ \chi^{\lambda}(\sigma) = \sign(\sigma) |\BST(\lambda/\tilde{\lambda},d)| \chi^{\tilde{\lambda}}(\mu) . \]