The half-levels of the FO2 alternation hierarchy

© 2016, Springer Science+Business Media New York. The alternation hierarchy in two-variable first-order logic FO 2 [ < ] over words was shown to be decidable by Kufleitner and Weil, and independently by Krebs and Straubing. We consider a similar hierarchy, reminiscent of the half levels of the dot-depth hierarchy or the Straubing-Thérien hierarchy. The fragment Σm2 of FO 2 is defined by disallowing universal quantifiers and having at most m−1 nested negations. The Boolean closure of Σm2 yields the m th level of the FO 2 -alternation hierarchy. We give an effective characterization of Σm2, i.e., for every integer m one can decide whether a given regular language is definable in Σm2. Among other techniques, the proof relies on an extension of block products to ordered monoids.