It is shown that basic language processes such as the production of free word associations and the generation of synonyms can be simulated using statistical models that analyze the distribution of words in large text corpora. According to the law of association by contiguity, the acquisition of word associations can be explained by Hebbian learning. The free word associations as produced by subjects on presentation of single stimulus words can thus be predicted by applying first-order statistics to the frequencies of word co-occurrences as observed in texts. The generation of synonyms can also be conducted on co-occurrence data but requires second-order statistics. The reason is that synonyms rarely occur together but appear in similar lexical neighborhoods. Both approaches are systematically compared and are validated on empirical data. It turns out that for both tasks the performance of the statistical system is comparable to the performance of human subjects.
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