Abstract

The category of all idempotent generated semigroups with a prescribed structure $\mathcal{E}$ of their idempotents $E$ (called the
biordered set) has an initial object called the free idempotent generated semigroup over $\mathcal{E}$,
defined by a presentation over alphabet $E$, and denoted by $\mathsf{IG}(\mathcal{E})$. Recently, much effort has been put into investigating the structure of semigroups of the form $\mathsf{IG}(\mathcal{E})$, especially regarding their maximal subgroups. In this paper we take these investigations in a new direction by considering the word problem for $\mathsf{IG}(\mathcal{E})$. We prove two principal results, one positive and one negative. We show that, given a word $w \in E^*$, it is decidable whether $w$ represents a regular element; if in addition one assumes that all maximal subgroups of $\mathsf{IG}(\mathcal{E})$ have decidable word problems, then the word problem in $\mathsf{IG}(\mathcal{E})$ restricted to regular words is decidable. On the other hand, we exhibit a biorder $\mathcal{E}$ arising from a finite idempotent semigroup $S$, such that the word problem for $\mathsf{IG}(\mathcal{E})$ is undecidable, even though all the maximal subgroups have decidable word problems. This is achieved by relating the word problem of $\mathsf{IG}(\mathcal{E})$ to the subgroup membership problem in finitely presented groups.