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Why did the author use に in the following sentence?

理解しかねて首をかしげる会場の様子、司会役が「もう少し具体的に」と重ねてたずねた。

たずねる needs に but for animate objects such as human beings. In the above sentence, に is used after 様子 which is an inanimate. Asking to an inanimate object seems to be strange for me.

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This is one of the functions of the particle に; to mark a reason/cause of some action. You can translate that part using "due to", "because of", "on seeing", etc.

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。

In your sentence, the chairperson is asking to someone not mentioned in this sentence (presumably, to the speaker on the stage). That person could also be marked with に, but is simply omitted here.

Related questions:

Some verbs take に so often (like ~にびっくりする and ~にあきれる in the link above) that it's perhaps best to just memorize the verb-particle pairs, but that's not the case with your sentence.

  • Sorry. 誰が理解しかねたか。司会役ですか。 – Well Harassed Programmer Jun 7 '16 at 8:44
  • No, it's the audience. The chairperson asked the speaker to elaborate because he/she saw the puzzled audience. – naruto Jun 7 '16 at 9:05
  • But if so, it seems to be illogical. Why? Because if the speaker did not understand and got puzzled, is it necessary for the chairperson to ask the speaker to elaborate more? Asking to speaker who don't understand to elaborate more is illogical. But the opposite, the chairperson who doesn't understand may ask the speaker to gather more information. – Well Harassed Programmer Jun 7 '16 at 9:10
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    The main speaker on stage understands what he is saying. It's the audience who did not understand and got puzzled (理解しかねて首をかしげた). The chairperson may or may not have understood the speaker. But the chairperson noticed that the audience got puzzled, so the chairperson asked to the speaker, "Could you say it again more concretely (because the audience got puzzled)?" Please note, 会場 is the metonym for the audience. – naruto Jun 7 '16 at 9:35
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I think "in response to" makes sense in this case.

Kind of like に対して only without the 対して part.

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