This is what dict.cc says about the usage of Samstag and Sonnabend:

Samstag [bes. westd., südd.] [österr.] [schweiz.]

Sonnabend [bes. nordd. und ostmitteld.]

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    I only can say, that »Sonnabend« is definitely never used in Austria, and its usage will confuse Austrian people. When I heard this word for the first time in my life, I thought it would mean »sunday evening« (»Sonntag Abend«). Later I learned, that it was »the evening before sunday« (»Der Abend vor dem Sonntag«) which in fact is this words origin, and even later, I learned, that this »evening« started in the early morning and lasts all day long. So it is »the day before sunday« or just »saturday«. – Hubert Schölnast May 30 '16 at 10:47
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    They’re abbreviated differently: Sa. vs. Sbd. because So. is already used for Sonntag. That was reason enough for me to abandon Sonnabend. Also note that both words are usually pronounced with two syllables only (in the North): /zamsdax/ vs. /zona:mt/ – Crissov May 30 '16 at 13:47

No. They are synonyms. I would argue that Samstag is in more common usage if you want to address an audience across all of Germany. The Tagesschau daily news program, although being produced in Hamburg uses Samstag (compare the weather forecast at the end of last Friday’s report). The regional weekly newspaper in Braunschweig (Neue Braunschweiger) consistently uses Sonnabend.

I also noted that the speaker, Jan Hofer, even though being from the North used the decidedly Southern pronunciation of Samstag and 28. ending in /k/ rather than /ç/ or /x/.

There could be a tendency of Notherners to replace Sonnabendabend with Samstagabend to avoid repeating the Abend, but I don’t have enough data to confirm that.

  • The Tagesschau link will probabably be dead after two weeks, right? I have not watched it, does he really say /g/ instead of /k/? Anyway, I think that "Samstag" is the word that you use if your audience is not regional. The Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe use "Sonnabend", though, so the word is not yet dead. – Carsten S May 30 '16 at 10:13
  • @CarstenS Du hast Recht mit /k/ statt /g/. Das von wegen örtlichem Gebrauch trifft ja auch auf die Neue Braunschweiger zu ;) – Jan May 30 '16 at 10:18
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    Richtig, den Braunschweigteil hatte ich nicht aufmerksam genug gelesen. Ich würde aber die Aussprache nicht "decidedly southern" nennen, denn es ist die Standardaussprache, egal woher sie ursprünglich kommt. – Carsten S May 30 '16 at 10:20

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