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This is a generalization of a question I posted to Math.SE here.

Suppose we have $k$ binary functions $f_1, f_2, \ldots, f_k$, all of which are commutative and associative, and $n$ indeterminates $x_1, x_2, \ldots, x_n$. What is the number $a_{n,k}$ of distinct expressions can we form using any combination (repetitions allowed) of the $f_i$ and one each of the $x_i$? Is there any efficient way to generate all of these expressions?

For example, in the case $k=2$, $n=3$, we can form $a_{3,2} = 8$ distinct expressions: $$f_1(f_1(x_1,x_2),x_3) \quad f_1(f_2(x_1,x_2),x_3) \quad f_1(f_2(x_1,x_3),x_2) \quad f_1(f_2(x_2,x_3),x_1)$$ $$f_2(f_1(x_1,x_2),x_3) \quad f_2(f_1(x_1,x_3),x_2) \quad f_2(f_1(x_2,x_3),x_1) \quad f_2(f_2(x_1,x_2),x_3)$$

After poking around on the OEIS for a while, I conjecture (for reasons entirely beyond my understanding) that $$ a_{n,k} = \sum_{i=0}^n \sum_{j=0}^i (-1)^j k^i {i+n-1 \choose j+n-1} {j+n-1 \brack j} $$ where ${n \brack k}$ is a Stirling number of the first kind. I have checked this for $n,k = 1$ to $4$, but I have no idea if or why it works.

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  • $\begingroup$ Your $a_{n,k}$ satisfy the recurrence relation $\displaystyle a_{n,k}=k\sum_r\sum_{P\in Part(n,r)}\prod_{p\in P} b_{|p|,k}$ where $\displaystyle b_{n,k}=(k-1)\sum_r\sum_{P\in Part(n,r)}\prod_{p\in P} b_{|p|,k}$ $\endgroup$ – Gabriel C. Drummond-Cole Feb 1 '15 at 0:21
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One way to formulate the (first) question you have asked is:

What is the dimension of the arity $n$ component of the free product of $k$ copies of the commutative operad?

Koszul duality for operads gives the following method of calculation (spoiler: I'm not going to end with an explicit formula). Fix $k$ and then combine the terms in an exponential generating function:

$$ Q_k(x) = \sum_{n=1}^\infty \frac{a_{n,k}}{n!}x^n. $$

In order to calculate $Q_k(x)$ we'll examine another, seemingly unrelated question which is easier to answer: Suppose we have $k$ binary functions which are mutually annihilating Lie brackets; then how many distinct expressions can we make from $n$ letters? For $k=1$ the answer is classically known to be $(n-1)!$; then since they are mutually annihilating, the answer in the general case is

$$ b_{n,k} = \left\{ \begin{array}{ll} 1&n=1\\ k(n-1)!&\text{otherwise.} \end{array} \right. $$

Combining these terms into a exponential generating series as above we get $$ P_k(x) = \sum_{n=1}^\infty \frac{b_{n,k}}{n!}x^n = x+\sum_{n=2}^\infty \frac{k}{n}x^n = (1-k)x -k\log(1-x). $$ Here we have calculated the exponential generating function for the arity $n$ component of the direct sum of $k$ copies of the Lie operad.

Then classical results about Koszul duality theory for operads assert the following:

  • the commutative and Lie operads are Koszul dual,
  • if $A$ and $B$ are Koszul dual to $A'$ and $B'$, then the free product of $A$ and $B$ is Koszul dual to the direct sum of $A'$ and $B'$, and
  • if two operads are Koszul dual, then their exponential generating series $P(x)$ and $Q(x)$ are related by $-P(-x)=Q^{-1}(x)$ (in formal series expansions near zero).

Together this tells us that $Q_k(x)$ is the formal inverse of the function $$ Q_k^{-1}(x) = (1-k)x +k\log(1+x). $$ Of course, $Q_k(x)$ is not elementary but it can be written in terms of the Lambert $W$ function. It's something like the following (but I think I might have made a typo or a sign error, check this formula!)

$$ Q_k(x)=-1-\frac{k}{k-1} W\left(\frac{k-1}{k}e^{\frac{x+1-k}{k}}\right). $$

In any event, one can use purely symbolic analysis of the $W$ function and a single special evaluation $$W\left(\frac{1-k}{k}e^{\frac{1-k}{k}}\right)=\frac{1-k}{k} $$ to work out a series expansion.

For instance, for $k=2$ we get:

$$ x + x^2 + \frac{4x^3}{3} + \frac{13x^4}{6} + \frac{59x^5}{15}+\cdots $$ which gives

$a_{1,2}=1$

$a_{2,2}=2$

$a_{3,2}=8$

$a_{4,2}=52$

$a_{5,2}=472$.

I'm too lazy to check whether this agrees with anything in the OEIS but this series (and those for other $k$), presumably, is well-known and can be cross-referenced there.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks! I must admit, the first half of your answer goes way over my head. Where can I learn more about Koszul duality and operads? $\endgroup$ – David Zhang Feb 1 '15 at 4:50
  • $\begingroup$ @david-zhang The best reference is Loday-Vallette, Algebraic Operads (7.5 is about these generating series), but that might be a little heavy for just getting to these combinatorics. I believe most of the necessary stuff for this question is in Ginzburg-Kapranov's readable paper on the subject. $\endgroup$ – Gabriel C. Drummond-Cole Feb 1 '15 at 14:04
  • $\begingroup$ In the OEIS $a_{\cdot,2}$ are apparently given by oeis.org/A006351 "Number of series-parallel networks with n labeled edges. Also called yoke-chains by Cayley and MacMahon." $\endgroup$ – Max Alekseyev Feb 2 '15 at 2:46
  • $\begingroup$ My guess is that the whole square is in there by antidiagonal if someone wanted to count out enough of the low terms. $\endgroup$ – Gabriel C. Drummond-Cole Feb 2 '15 at 2:52

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