In a previous post, Path had discussed the much-bemoaned “The Reason … Is Because” (TRIB) construction. A closely related phrase, “The Reason Why …” (TRW) is considered frowned upon as well. After all, these extra words—“is because”, “why”—are superfluous and add no meaning. Why should we include them?
But Jonathan Owen on Arrant Pedantry recently posted a defense of “the reason why”. To summarise his post, “why” in TRW serves a syntactic role as a relative adverb, joining a subordinate clause to the main one (just like other conjunctions). “The reason why I wrote this” is not technically wrong or superfluous as a sentence; “why” joins the main fragment “I wrote this” to the subordinate fragment “the reason [for my writing this]”.
Technical fastidiousness alone does not defend the use of a construction in fansubs though. In The Elements of Subtitles (EoS), on Dialogue Flow, Bannon argues that “subtitles should never interfere with the flow of the scene” (pg32). They do so when they force the reader to slog through unnecessarily long lines, and lines containing “the reason why” can often be shortened without losing syntactic meaning. Take the following examples:
Before: “That is the reason why it happened.”
After: “That is why it happened.”
Before: “The reason why people give up so fast is because they tend to look at how far they still have to go, instead of how far they have gotten.”
After: “People give up quickly because they look at how far they have to go, instead of how far they have gotten.”
Before: “… and that is the reason why.”
After: “… and that is why.”
Again, neither construction is wrong, but in the above examples the “After” lines bring the point across without abducting the viewers’ attention for as long.
However, earlier in EoS, on Natural, Faux Natural & Unnatural Voice, Bannon also adds a contrasting warning: “if space allows, use it to share the nuances of the dialogue with the viewer. Brevity has its place, but brief subtitles run the risk of being bland—and losing important subtleties.” If you have good reason to use “the reason why”—to characterise a character’s speech pattern, or to set off a clause—don’t be afraid to use it.