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The WALS map that crossclassifies number and past tense morphology shows that they tend to covary. I want to know if people with a deeper knowledge of linguistic typology can vouch for this correlation.

I'm a syntactician, so I have theory-internal reasons that would explain why the implication is true, but I need to know it holds water. In particular, I need to know whether it's true when one accounts for strictly pronominal plurality and for 'impure' tense markers such as Chinese aspect particle 了.

More specifically, the implicational universal I would want to test should be formulated thusly:

If a language L has lexical nouns that obligatorily inflect for number, then L has verbs (lexical or otherwise) that obligatorily inflect for tense, where number and tense both admit at least two values with morphologically distinct realizations.

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    The answer depends heavily on what you mean by "inflect for tense" (namely, "inflect" and "tense"). Inflect implies a morphological process and tense as opposed to aspect implies, well, too long for a comment but you get the drift. – user6726 Feb 15 at 1:44
  • That WALS data doesn't really seem to show much of a correlation IMO. – curiousdannii Feb 15 at 3:09
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    The question's title and the last statement of the question do not match... – jick Feb 15 at 4:30
  • @jick I think Deep_Television is trying to investigate if there's a counter-example for the assertion. If I understood correctly I'll edit the question, possibly swapping their places. – madprogramer Feb 15 at 9:27
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    Pama-Nyungan languages (Australia) are a counter-example to your question title, as indicated by the WLS map. Many P-N languages have no inflectional plural marking on nouns (typically free forms are used for this purpose), and most do have past tense as an inflectional category on verbs. – Gaston Ümlaut Feb 15 at 21:44
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Japanese appears to be an obvious counter-example: no plural morphology but tenses.

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    Though there's stuff like ら and たち. While these can be excluded from consideration by defining 'plural' as a comparative concept in some way that excludes them, I think it's still important to point them out especially as OP isn't particularly clear about their definitions. – WavesWashSands Feb 15 at 5:51
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    Chinese Mandarin also has a suffix -men, that is attached to pronouns wo / wo-men "I / we". This suffix can also be attached to nouns in Vocative: Xiangsheng-men "Sirs", when beginning an address to a group of people. But, normally, -men is not attached to nouns implicitly plural in a sentence. – Arnaud Fournet Feb 15 at 9:11
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    Sure, but it still can be attached to animate nouns in a sentence, even if purists will usually deride these as westernisms. I think it's important to point these out subtleties in any answer to this question because of how unclear OP's definitions are (perhaps intentionally so, given his sentence on 'impure' markers etc.). Things like たち and 們 would not be strictly pronominal, unlike something like Cantonese 哋. – WavesWashSands Feb 15 at 10:42
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In particular, I need to know whether it's true when one accounts for strictly pronominal plurality and for 'impure' tense markers such as Chinese aspect particle 了.

I think you just answered your own question. It's clearly not true if you do account for circumstantial features. Why should using aspect instead of tenses be an exception?

I do think your rewording is more objectively debatable:

If a language L has lexical nouns that obligatorily inflect for number, then L has verbs (lexical or otherwise) that obligatorily inflect for tense, where number and tense both admit at least two values with morphologically distinct realizations

I think Malagasy might be of interest to you as a potential counter-example:

Row 1: * Number1(Singular) Number2(Plural), Row 2: Tense1(present tense, buy) mividy mividy, Row 3: Tense2(past tense, bought) nividy nividy

To put these into sentences:

  • Mividy zavatra aho ~ I buy something. (Buy - something - I)
  • Mividy zavatra isika ~ We (inc.) buy something. (Buy - something - we(inc.))
  • Nividy zavatra aho ~ I bought something. (Bought - something - I)
  • Nividy zavatra isika ~ We (inc.) bought something. (Bought - something - we(inc.))

Here we have (morphological) tense marking despite the lack of distinctive plural inflection.

if a language has no plural morphology

Malagasy doesn't have plural morphology although it has pronouns which may be plural.

it has no tense marking

Malagasy does in fact have morphological tense marking, so there's a little exception there. Though I do think there's a bit of debate on whether the verb inflections show modality or tense. But I can assume this is more acceptable since you see a conjoined word rather than a distinctive character being used as a marker.

I do realize this must be less desirable given your background, but why not study this correspondence as a pattern or trend rather than a universal? I still think you might actually be on to something on a logical level.

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  • Note, that the universal speaks about plural nouns: If a language L has lexical NOUNS that obligatorily inflect for number, and your Malagasy examples have no nouns at all. – Yellow Sky Feb 15 at 10:11
  • “If a language has no plural morphology" Yes, the universal and question are actually looking for something else, although the two will often overlap. See thing is, Malagasy does have plural pronouns, in fact also plural demonstratives which have something like a plural particle -re-. It doesn't however to my knowledge have any other forms of pluralization. If you a liberal enough definition to count pronouns as nouns and just common nouns I think it checks out. – madprogramer Feb 15 at 10:16
  • Minor corrections: demonstratives should be "demonstrative pronouns". Furthermore it's better to say -r-/-re- as the e can drop out. Ex. Itỳ -> Irity (This and That). Ìo -> Ireò (That and Those). Also that last sentence was supposed to be " If you have a liberal enough definition to count pronouns as nouns and not just common nouns I think it checks out." – madprogramer Feb 15 at 10:26
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    'I do realize this must be less desirable given your background, but why not study this correspondence as a pattern or trend rather than a universal?' Yeah exactly. Years of research have shown that 'absolute' universals never hold up, other than the most trivial; it would be extremely unlikely for this to be any exception. – WavesWashSands Feb 15 at 10:38

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