Deese, James. 1962. On the structure of associative meaning. Psychological Review, Vol 69(3), 161-175. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/h0045842
Deese, who has published extensively on association norms and the methodology of eliciting associations, discusses here what sort of relation the terms in associative pairs might have. Most of the paper notes that the methodology heretofore has been faulty, and Deese’s contribution is to introduce frequency well into the model. He also discusses associative relations in terms of replaceability and combinability and in the assymmetry between items on different hyponymi levels.
Deese posits (referring to previous work by Woodworth, Ebbinghaus, and Galton, to which I expect I might return further on) that the associative relation between elicited terms is not one of meaning in the way meaning usually is understood. (Woodworth per Deese, classifies (grades, probably) words both by meaning and meaningfulness. This needs to be looked up properly). The associative relation is not as readily mappable on known lexicogrammatic relations.