Atsugewi is a recently extinct Palaihnihan language of northeastern California spoken by the Atsugewi people of Hat Creek and Dixie Valley. In 1962, there were four fluent speakers out of an ethnic group of 200, all elderly; the last of these died in 1988. The last fluent native speaker was Medie Webster; as of 1988, other tribal members knew some expressions in the language. For a summary of the documentation of Atsugewi see Golla (2011: 98-99).
Astugewi is related to Achumawi. They have long been considered as part of the hypothetical Hokan stock, and it has been supposed that within that stock they comprise the Palaihnihan family.
The name properly is Atsugé, to which the -wi of the Achumawi or Pit River language was erroneously suffixed.
Estimates for the pre-contact populations of most native groups in California have varied substantially. Alfred L. Kroeber estimated the combined 1770 population of the Achumawi and Atsugewi as 3,000. A more detailed analysis by Fred B. Kniffen arrived at the same figure. T. R. Garth (1978:237) estimated the Atsugewi population at a maximum of 850.
Kroeber estimated the combined population of the Achumawi and Astugewi in 1910 as 1,100. The population was given as about 500 in 1936.
Atsugewi language has basically only three vowels: /a/, /o/, and /i/; /e/ is the allophone of /i/ while /o/ is the allophone of /u/. However, it has been supported by Leonard Talmy (1972) that there are instances such as the word ce "the eye(s)" where e can be analyzed as a proper phoneme.
^Garth, T. R. Atsugewi. In Handbook of North American Indians, William C. Sturtevant, general editor, vol. 8, California, edited by Robert F. Heizer, pp. 236-243. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 1978. p. 237
Bright, William. (1965). [Review of A history of Palaihnihan phonology by D. L. Olmsted]. Language, 41 (1), 175-178.
Golla, Victor. California Indian Languages. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-520-26667-4.
Good, Jeff. (2004). A sketch of Atsugewi phonology. Boston, MA. (Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas, January 8–11).
Good, Jeff; McFarland, Teresa; & Paster, Mary. (2003). Reconstructing Achumawi and Atsugewi: Proto-Palaihnihan revisited. Atlanta, GA. (Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas, January 2–5).