Example:

When I called, he came a running.

My first inclination was that it's an article and the participle is being used as a gerund, but that doesn't make sense structurally.

My second is I wonder if it comes from Latin or a Latin-based language influence. For example, European Portuguese puts an "a" between:

He came running. (He came a running)

Ele(He) veio(came) a(a) correr(running).

Update:

What is the story behind "a-" prefix / suffix?

This suggested duplicate question is not in fact duplicate. It doesn't provide a grammatical basis. It doesn't explain what it is. Is a being used as an article or a preposition or something else? It is (couched midway in the third of seventeen paragraphs of one of three answers on the alleged duplicate post) postulated to be a preposition. But this has no basis in grammar because the only prepositional definition of a is per, as in each, because a does not mean on, not in any dictionary from OED to Merriam-Webster to American Heritage or to any other I could find. This other post asks for the story behind a; I'm asking what tenet of grammar justifies using a, which this other post does not illuminate.

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    In "ele veio a correr", a is a prepositon, not the indefinite article. – Jacinto Jan 15 '16 at 11:14
  • @Jacinto : I know. I wasn't suggesting that it was an article. Instead, I was offering another alternative. I'm suggesting that it's maybe not an indefinite article but maybe something vestigial from a Latin-language influence, or maybe from Gaelic, which heavily influenced both Portuguese and English. I don't know what the grammatical basis is, thus the question, but these are my thoughts. – Benjamin Harman Jan 15 '16 at 11:16
  • My mistake. Correr is the infinitive though. Correndo is the equivalent to running but it takes no a: ele veio correndo. There might be some similarity between a correr and a running though. The a in veio a correr is misterious to Portuguese speakers too; but in passei uma hora a nadar (I spent an hour swimming) it can be roughly understood as in, at. Etymonline lumps togethter de a of a running with that a of twice a day: it says it means on (each) day. – Jacinto Jan 15 '16 at 11:45
  • @Jacinto : I take you're meaning. I spent several years growing up in Portugal, so I know Portuguese. We think of the "a" in between in Portuguese representing "to" in English, but like the "a" in "a running," the "a" between "veio" and "correr" seems similarly out of place since "correr" already means "to run," so adding the "a" would almost be like saying "to to run." Thus, you have my hypothesis that it comes from the ancient language of Gall. – Benjamin Harman Jan 15 '16 at 11:52
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    Possible duplicate of What is the story behind "a-" prefix / suffix? – sumelic Jan 15 '16 at 12:35

This "a" is actually not an article, it's an old-fashioned prefix meaning something like "to". It's archaic and only really used in poetry and songs... maids a-milking, lords a-leaping etc.

It's possible it was influenced by Old Norse/French in Middle English.

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    I'd be interested in knowing where you got the Old Norse/French influence idea. It's too arbitrary to have made up, so I figure you read it somewhere. Do you know where? – Benjamin Harman Jan 15 '16 at 14:34

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