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I am struggling to understand the syntax of this sentence that I found in a grammar book.

あまりの言葉あきれてものが言えませんでした。
I could not say anything because of the outrageously unkind words.

I read it as "not many words に outrageous thing が was unable to speak."
In other words, the pattern used to say "because of B I was C(action) A" would be "AにBがC(action)." Is this the correct understanding of this grammar?

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The に doesn't really mean 'because' there. It's just the particle the verb あきれる takes. You're making the mistake of trying to parse beyond sentence boundaries.

The basic structure of the sentence is that there are two clauses, which are joined by the て form.

Sentence 1:

あまりの言葉にあきれて

Shocked by (someone's) overly harsh words

Sentence 2:

ものが言えませんでした。

I was at a loss for words

The て form when joining two sentences sometimes implies reason: 「明るくて、眠れない」 it's so bright that I can't sleep

And it is the て form joining the two sentences that carries the connotation of 'because'.

I was so shocked by [his] excessive harshness that I couldn't speak

By the way, ××にあきれて、ものが言えない returns quite a few results on a web search and seems to be somewhat of a fixed phrase. Here's a sample from 研究社 新和英中辞典

彼のばかにはあきれて物が言えない。

His stupidity really staggers me.

3

Some pages (like this and this) don't seem to explain this usage, but に can actually mark a reason.

デジタル大辞泉 lists this as the seventh meaning of に:

7 動作・作用の原因・理由・きっかけとなるものを示す。…のために。…によって。「あまりのうれしさ―泣き出す」「退職金をもとで―商売を始める」

This page explains this usage as the 13th (!) meaning of に:

13 原因・理由を表わすことがあります。
(61)人の多さにびっくりしました。

I may be wrong, but I feel this type of に is used with certain verbs related to human feelings. There seems to be a scientific article about this (unfortunately I couldn't access the content).


To break down あまりの言葉にあきれてものが言えませんでした:

  • あまりの言葉に: because of his overly unkind words
    • あまりの excessive, too much, outrageous
  • あきれ: (I was) "amazed" (te-form of あきれる)
  • て: "and then"
  • もの: "things / words"
  • が: (subject marker, but marks the object (もの) of the verb (言う) in this case. see this.)
  • 言えませんでした: "was not able to say"
  • Thanks! Your reading is similar to mine. What puzzled me if に is being used to mark a reason, is that I'm used to に using the preceding clause as the reason, i.e. あまりの言葉, not the clause following. – Naruto Apr 11 '16 at 11:00

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